If wildlands conservationists and outdoor recreationists would unite, we could be an unstoppable force for Nature. So Kim Crumbo, legendary river ranger, wilderness coordinator, and conservationist with Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, reminded Colorado River guides at the recent Guides Training Seminar in Marble Canyon, Arizona.
Norris Dodd is proof that one person can make an enormous difference. Norris Dodd is proof that government officials can do good. Like Carolyn Campbell of Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, Norris could be an international ambassador for wildlife crossings, if only our society had the sense to make safety a priority.
Camped alone in Blue Range Primitive Area, eastern Arizona, I finally heard a sure wolf howl. We’d seen tracks and scat of Lobo in the Gila Wilderness and heard various canine songs and calls, but this was the first definite Mexican wolf howl I’d ever heard – and it was answered by coyotes!
I needn’t have carried in the milk and honey. This land already had them aplenty. A stroll through Gila National Forest’s wild heart, the Gila Wilderness, and especially the Wilderness’s wild soul, McKenna Park, is sweet beyond measure. The sun in early spring is radiant but not yet hot. Nights dip below freezing but mornings warm quickly. Breezes keep you alert. Wildlife sign is everywhere.
I could either stay in the narrow canyon and brave the shockingly cold deep waters of the Gila River, or scramble back up to the canyon rim, and later risk a descent of crumbling cliffs to return to the life-giving water. I chose both.
Were I a person of means, not only would I contribute money to enlarge the holdings of the Northern Jaguar Project, Naturalia, and Cuenca Los Ojos, as well as conservation groups in my Adirondack homeland, I’d purchase a little wildlife reserve of my own somewhere near Cave Creek, in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeast Arizona.
Long ago, when I half-seriously thought of starting an Evolutionary Fitness company, my friend and fellow wildlands advocate Tom Butler joked: “You’ll be yelling at your clients Feel the burn! as they do their forearm-building fence-cutting, aerobic road-removal, and cardiovascular exotic-weed-pulling.”
Dave Foreman calls the Peloncillo Mountains of southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona one of the most important wildlife corridors in the Southwest. Dave should know; he founded Wildlands Project and The Rewilding Institute, and he literally wrote the book on Rewilding North America. Photo: Kim Vacariu
Lobo stood with us symbolically atop American Peak as we gazed worriedly down on the proposed site of the Wildcat Mine (below right). Lobo is a promise, an artistic expression of hope crafted by a Zuni sculptor. This small figurine and others (including jaguar and ocelot, which are also both native to southern Arizona but jeopardized by roads and the border wall) we bear with us on this wild walk-about.
A serious writer (which I don’t presume to be) is careful not to mix too many themes. How, though, am I to delimit story lines when a day’s outing includes tracks of keystone species, commemoration of a fallen hero, a site chosen for a massive strip mine, overgrazed grasslands and recovering grasslands, a dozen worthy conservation and trail groups, restored riparian zones, and land management agencies behaving both nobly and ignobly?
The dead fox confirmed, tragically, the wildlife crossing site proposed by the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection. Though it would not go in soon enough to save this victim of our car culture, and of dead-end policies that effectively subsidize exurban sprawl, a wildlife tunnel and a wildlife bridge here on Oracle Roadn, southern Arizona, should reduce the tragedy of roadkill on this highway in the sprawling outskirts of Tucson, and maintain the last link between the Catalinas and Tortolitas.
They asked if I would stop the wall. The young Mexican conservationists were showing me a remote region where they hoped to convince ranchers to accept lobos, pumas, and other predators. But their greater worries were north of there along the massive barricade US Homeland Security is building between North America’s economically richest nation and its biologically richest nation.
I almost swam with beavers, but water and air were a little too cold. The pond at Los Fresnos Reserve, just south of the Huachuca Mountains and on the south side of the US/Mexico border, teems with waterfowl and ripples with beavers. I wanted to jump in and join them, but the frosty mornings and windy afternoons admitted only watching from the banks.
As we walked in fresh snow toward Sonora’s highest point, Sierra del Flores (over 8,000’), the park rangers noted that the big tracks to our left, melting out but still discernible, were “weyas des ojos” – bear tracks, in snow, in mid-winter, in Las Islas de Azul, the Sky Islands. I was impressed.
Standing on the very site where Mexican wolves had been held in a loose barrier before being released into the Sierra San Luis, in northern Sonora, I felt a bit of the nervous excitement a deer or peccary living in wolf country must feel. Not that I’d ever be in any danger of becoming prey for a wolf or other native predator, but because there’s that tense uncertainty in the midst of wildness, here in the Madrean Archipelago, where conservationists are helping Lobo return to its rightful home.