Fladry, © Katja Tourneman

Living with wildlife in the Southwest

Coexistence is key for survival of apex predators like the highly endangered Mexican gray wolf

As winter begins to take hold in the high country of the American Southwest, people and wildlife alike are busy preparing for cold temperatures and deep snow. Humans are stacking firewood, caching canned foods and winterizing homes; elk and deer are making their way down to lower elevations for access to winter forage; and Mexican gray wolves are finishing up the spoils of their successful hunts and the leftovers from human hunters before following the herds to lower ground. Because cattle also graze on these same winter pastures, we at Defenders are also busy working with ranchers and wolf project managers making preparations for collaborative work to reduce the potential for conflicts between wolves and livestock.

Trailcam, © Defenders of Wildlife

A member of the Turkey Creek Livestock Association on the White Mountain Apache Reservation tests a motion detection camera. This camera program provides reward payments for photos of wolves taken by remote cameras, creating a financial incentive for wolf presence on tribal lands.

Our Living with Wildlife programs are based on the recognition that humans and wildlife occupy a shared landscape and that we share the responsibility to resolve our conflicts. Through these partnership projects we hope to increase tolerance for critically endangered Mexican gray wolves in time to prevent their extinction, and do so in a way that encourages cooperation, leadership and respect for the ecological restoration that scientists say will accompany these wolves’ recovery.

Throughout 2013, we’ve developed and supported 12 coexistence projects in the territories of 13 wolf packs within the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area and on White Mountain Apache tribal lands. These projects have involved range riders, fladry, alternative pastures, diversionary feeding of livestock, community calving and other proven techniques to reduce conflicts between wolves and livestock. For more details on these conflict avoidance tools and techniques take a look at our field guide Livestock and Wolves – A Guide to Non-lethal Tools and Methods to Reduce Conflict. While no single approach to reducing conflicts is effective in every situation, by working together with affected livestock producers and wildlife managers to troubleshoot problem scenarios, we’ve made improvements on the ground for both wolves and humans. But, while the number of wild Mexican gray wolves has grown in the last year from 58 to 75, their future still remains highly uncertain and we’ve still got a lot of hard work ahead.

Wolf tracks, © Defenders of Wildlife

Defenders southwest representative Craig Miller shows Apache Wilderness Journeys guests how to recognize and identify Mexican wolf tracks.

I’ve also been working as a conservation representative on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mexican Wolf Interdiction Stakeholder Council (now called the Coexistence Council) alongside wolf country ranchers, tribal and county representatives and agency officials to help develop a new and innovative program to support a growing wolf population. We call this the “Coexistence Plan.”  What’s exciting about this program is that it has been co-developed by some of the ranchers who have been most affected by wolves, yet it still seeks to support a viable population of these very wolves. By combining conflict avoidance measures with performance-based incentives for successfully hosting a growing wolf population, this home-grown approach has great potential to further wildlife conservation while better addressing the concerns of ranchers living in wolf country.

Adding to that, Defenders’ yearly Living with Wildlife and coexistence project expenditures will be used as a match to help cooperating states and tribes obtain critical funding through the federal Livestock Loss Demonstration Act. These funds will, in turn, be used to implement various strategies of the Coexistence Plan, so we all share responsibility for the implementation and success of the Coexistence Plan. And if we’re successful, the conservation benefits of our work will be multiplied because these funds will help to implement more conflict avoidance projects in new wolf territories and provide a financial incentive to local communities for helping to increase the wild wolf population.

coexistence apache tour

Tour guides for Apache Wilderness Journeys, a tribal ecotour enterprise which includes a focus on Mexican gray wolf recovery. The ecotour includes wolf program interpretation, crown dancers, elder storytelling and traditional cooking. Defenders helped the tribe develop their Apache Wilderness Journeys program.

coexistence apache elk

Apache Wilderness Journeys participants on horseback pass a herd of elk.

Range riders, © Defenders of Wildlife

Defenders sponsored range riders on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. Range riders are an effective coexistence measure to ward off livestock depredations, as wolves will avoid areas where riders are present.

coexistence apache yellowstone

Apache tourism director enjoying wolf watching at Yellowstone National park. Defenders sponsored this visit to assist the Apache in developing wolf-centered ecotourism in Arizona.

Fladry, © Katja Tourneman

Red fladry around a pasture in Apache County, Arizona. Fladry is an effective coexistence tool. The bright moving flags repel wolves, thereby deterring livestock depredations.


Defenders senior southwest representative Craig Miller discussing the effectiveness of turbo-fladry, red flagging combined with a hot wire, in deterring livestock depredations. This fladry is installed on a grazing allotment in Apache County, Arizona.

coexistence turbo fladry

Turbo-fladry in Apache County, Arizona. The red flags and hot wire are strung on pasture fences and deter wolves from approaching livestock. The use of turbo-fladry and other tools help ranching to coexist with Mexican gray wolf recovery.

Coexistence Radio Activated Guard RAG Box Arizona

Radio Activated Guard of “RAG” box in Arizona. RAG boxes are installed on fences. An approaching wolf’s radio collar triggers a flashing light and loud alarm, which sends the wolf running and deters depredations on livestock.

Mexican gray wolf, © Defenders of Wildlife

A Mexican gray wolf yearling from the Fox Mountain pack, taken by a remote camera trap in February of 2012.

coexistence rancher

Defenders senior Southwest representative Craig Miller speaks with a rancher about techniques for avoiding conflicts between wolves and ranching.

Coexistence rancher agreement

Defenders senior Southwest representative and a rancher strike an agreement on effective coexistence measures to help prevent livestock depredations on his grazing allotment.

coexistence telemetry

A range rider uses a telemetry tracking device to pick up signals from the wolves that are outfitted with radio collars. Knowing where wolves are and the direction they’re heading before moving cattle helps avoid conflicts.

coexistence range riders nm

Range riders drift cattle through wolf territory on a grazing allotment in New Mexico. Range riders are an effective coexistence measure to ward off livestock depredations, as wolves will avoid areas where riders are present.

coexistence livestock

Two tribal members from the Turkey Creek Livestock Association remove a livestock carcass. Livestock carcasses can attract wolves and other predators. Removing them as soon as possible prevents predators from feeding on the carcass and stops the potential for habituation, where animals will keep coming back to the same spot to feed.

coexistence arizona range rider

A range rider on an allotment in Arizona keeps watch over a producer’s livestock to help prevent depredations. Range riders are an effective coexistence measure to ward off livestock depredations, as wolves will avoid areas where riders are present.

Craig Miller is a Southwest Representative for Defenders of Wildlife

Craig Miller

, Senior Southwest Representative

Craig has led Defenders’ regional wolf and jaguar conservation programs since 1993. He has served on the federal recovery teams for the cactus-ferruginous pygmy-owl and the gray wolf and currently serves on the executive committee of the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project.

23 Responses to “Living with wildlife in the Southwest”

  1. Nikki wise

    A great way to allow these beautiful
    Animals to live full and happy lives , hope all goes well

  2. Minnie ( Mini)

    PLEASE STAND UP FOR OUR WILDLIFE. We very much want to see our forests and wilderness areas thrive the way that nature intended when all animals were put here for a purpose. That is why our WOLVES ( and the Lobo’s of the southwest ) are so vitally important to the ecosystem. We ask that you please consider them and those that have worked so hard to reinstate them to their natural habitats. Our Wildlife and wild places are a natural part of all of us and our growing up.To topple the balance on the side of the cattle owners who use our free ranges and allow the open ranges to be overbalanced by excessive grazing resulting in grave damage in grazing fields for our wild creatures is just not right!.The balance should stay the same if not less for the cattle industry because we are indeed eating much less meat now. At any rate, we all know wildlife has a natural habitat and our rare and endangered lobo’s NEED to be protected in order to survive. Thank you very much for your soulful and kind consideration. May Pope St Francis and St Francis of Assisi extend a blessing on you for your kindness and love for animals just as he loves all animals.

  3. Berniece Thornton

    This is astonishing. You all are astonishing. What unique yet useful approaches to a critical problem. All sides benefit! God Bless all of you for working together to create a better world for the wolves and your animals and yourselves.

  4. Denna

    Co-existence seems challenging even among humans. If we can learn to co-exist w/wildlife & nature, maybe we can also co-exist among our brothers & sisters. One can only hope. My sincere gratitude to you for the wonderful work you are doing, Defenders of Wildlife.

  5. Michael J. Good, MS

    It is the Penobscot Nation that we have to thank here in Maine for their continued defense of the environment. Our rivers and streams nourish wolves and other large mammals so removal of Dams and opening watersheds to the Ocean is vital to our Existence and Co-existence with the large mammals. Thank you for helping to destroy the European Concept of Exploitation. We must continue to strive for Thriving ecosystems. Thanks for your work

  6. Nick

    I have an acquaintance who has a grey wolf he rescued as a puppy. He is absolutely the sweetest animal big teddy bear!! Watches over his “Girl friend” a husky with both eyes.

  7. Pat.

    I really respect what you are doing for the wolves, and the other animals’ we need to co-exist and the work you are doing is wonderful. Thank-you.

  8. bobbi qualls

    We found out what happened when the Wolf was taken out of nature so much that we released them back into it … and now you want to wipe out total families that would devestate the area since they travel and live in families …for life and unlike we humans never leave an injured family member behind or let them die alone .. I think if they are having trouble with a pack move them just knock them out load them up and move them don’t kill them !

  9. Ian

    Can you post and promote the websites of good Eco ranchers and tribal tours. If all of us Defender supporters put our tourist dollars to where we can see some wolves, it would provide real sustainable incentives (and jobs) for them to keep the wolves around.
    Money talks.

  10. Bonnie MacRaith

    “Living with Wildlife” are the key words here. We can learn much from them. They exhibit fairness, hunting only out of need not just to kill or maim. Wolves are socially sophisticated and intelligent and help balance the ecosystem – see what they have done for Yellowstone National Park. It is vitally important to the Earth’s survival to protect all Wildlife. Their existence embellishes our lives, we see ourselves in them and they teach us how to be real.

    Thank you for caring and all you do for the natural world!

  11. Deidre

    Ya~at~eeh! I would do anything to help those BLESSED WOlves. !!!.
    Let me.know what I can do please!!!

  12. Jo Ann B. Fineman MD

    I can only say once more that I strongly urge you to stop organized killings of wolves on Federal land–or ANY land for that matter. Ranchers can more adequately protect their stock than by killing natural predators—good herding and guard dogs , and adequate fencing, are far better than upsetting the natural balance of wildlife–whihc only leads to more imbalance and thus more species
    being diminished and obliterated. And since I live in the Soouthwest, I do know whereof I speak.

    Jo Ann Fineman

  13. Alberta Gibson

    I have respect for what you are doing. Please continue to save the wolves. Philadelphia girl!

  14. Debbie Rakowski

    The wildlife we have here on the planet earth was put here for a reason my God and the human race have no right to kill any of them. How would you like if every time there was petition out wanting to kill you for nothing?? What we are doing is wrong and it needs to stop now before we have no wildlife left.

  15. helayna

    i don’t think people quite understand the importance of these creatures and in fact all creatures they all holed a roll in nature keeping things going and even loosing one of them can disrupt the hole sistome and we are the ones who will have to pay in the end any and all work going towards saving these beautiful creatures and re-educating the people who live around them has to be given a huge amount of respect and help :D

  16. Elaine

    Man is so destructive of nature – our children will never know some of these BEAUTIFUL Animals – wild animals balance nature and man destroys nature for no real reason – I don’t cry over someone getting attacked by a mountain lion – as humans put a “walking path” through their woods – I guess humans can’t walk in the park without crying that the “wild life” scares me – We need to realize that soon these animals will be gone and we can’t get them back.

  17. Charles Roth

    There are a lot of rancher and state and federal government people who are against the well-being of wolves. It’s a self-interested circle of people. The well-being and survival of wolves is a positive action for man, wolf, and the entire balance of nature. Other wildlife populations benefit from the maintaining of wolf populations. Managing the wolf packs, elk, deer and bear population is a plus for nature and for our citizens as a whole


    Yes, Co-existence is the KEY, along with the FACTORS that WOLVES lives do have VALUE and do have a RIGHT to LIVE on this planet EARTH! Many people want to take that right away from them!




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