CAUGHT TWIXT BEASTS & BUREAUCRATS
New rules from a softer society, far removed from the land.
© 1998 By J. Zane Walley
"Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, be
ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves," Jesus instructed
the apostles as he sent them into the world with his word. He
knew of the danger wolves presented, and metaphorically used their
grim fame to instruct his disciples. American colonists and pioneers
experienced the havoc of wolf attacks on humans and livestock
and did their best to eliminate the plague.
In recent years, a softer society, far removed from the land,
has unwittingly stood idle as nihilist wildlife devotees, championed
by politically-correct appointees on federal regulatory boards,
have succeeded in reintroducing the wolf scourge.
Wolves running free in America do have a hint of Jack London
adventure, a particular seductiveness to the soul, and they are
certainly handsome animals. These Disney-like fantasies abruptly
evaporate in the physical actuality of a face-to-face attack.
Such an attack happened-happened recently-not to woodsmen, or
miners, nor cowboys, but to an average urban family on a camping
trip. Luckily, they were able campers and defended themselves
against the wolf assault. What they were not prepared for was
the political aftermath. They found themselves caught between
beast lovers and bureaucrats, amidst the wolves of politics.
Over a simple lunch, the Humphrey family falls into easy conversation.
The two daughters talk their dad, Richard, into telling stories
about his far-flung travels in Micronesia, Southeast Asia and
the South Pacific. They love his stories for they are gentle,
amusing stories of people he met, befriended, and endeavored to
understand. And Richard doesn't just spin yarns, he shares, and
underlying each story is a kindly parable of people getting along
with each other. He gently educates as he smiles and talks, and
the girls cling to each of his words. They lean their heads against
their mother, and Helen unconsciously and fondly strokes their
hair, usually not speaking, for she is a lady of few but earnest
The Humphrey family and two dogs, Buck and Sam, live in suburban
Tucson, Ariz., but it is clear their hearts aren't there. For
years, every possible free moment has been spent in the desert
and mountains of the West. They hunt, hike and camp often. Camp
is like home, a large heavy-framed canvas tent with table, chairs,
and a wood stove. It is a cozy, livable shelter that has often
been a classroom for the young ladies.
Helen and Richard chose to home-school so even in the wilderness
education goes on, with Mom and dad as teachers and the wilds
as mentor and laboratory.
Richard and his daughters were in the tent studying when the
wolf attack began. Helen sweeps silver wings of long hair away
from her face as she recounts the harrowing event. Tears flow
freely. "Buck saved us and then God saved Buck. If Buck hadn't
gotten between my daughters and the wolves, they would have attacked
Buck is the venerable family dog. He's a dappled-gray stalwart
fellow, the best of breeds, an All-American mutt and treated as
a valued member of the family. He sensed danger near the camp,
went looking, and discovered two recently released Mexican wolves
lurking close to the tent behind a thicket of undergrowth-too
close for Buck's protective instincts. He found the wolves exactly
where the younger daughter was getting ready to build a playhouse.
As Buck confronted the wolves, Helen was several yards away from
camp near a stream, reading. "I sensed something wrong, horribly
wrong. It was as if a black dread swept over me. I began running
toward the tent and screaming, 'Dick, come quick.'"
This camping trip was to be a celebration of Richard's retirement
as a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier and the family's newfound
freedom. Camp was set up late on a chill April evening, near a
well-traveled tourist route, in a spot they had camped for the
last 20 years. The following morning Richard was up early, sawing
wood for the campfire and tent stove. "I felt something funny,
like something was watching me," Richard remembers. "I looked
around and saw what I thought at first was a dog. It was close,
low to the ground and was stalking me. Then I saw it had a collar
and a transmitter box. I assumed it was a hybrid wolf. I noticed
a second one in the trees. I thought they had been released in
a wilderness area far to the north, near Alpine."
He walked to the tent, woke the family, told them they had wolves
in camp, and loaded his wife's rifle. They moved outside the tent
and spotted the wolves 30 or 40 yards away. They yelled and made
noise, which partially worked. The wolves backed off, but as Richard
recalls, "They acted more like dogs than wildlife unaccustomed
to humans." Later they heard howling which they assumed was about
a half-mile away. "We didn't break camp and leave," Richard explains,
"because we thought the wolves were just passing through."
After breakfast, Richard began the girls' lessons and Helen
left to read. Almost an hour later, he heard his wife of 23 years
screaming. "I stepped out of the tent and she told me to get the
rifle." They could hear the sounds of Buck shrieking as he fought
for his life with the wolves. Richard began yelling to run them
off. One wolf detached from the fray and ran away, but, as Richard
chillingly reminisces, "All of a sudden, a wolf came around a
tree toward us, and not in a walk but in a run. That's when I
shot. I was thinking how fast wolves could run and I couldn't
let him get any closer."
Richard's shots stopped the wolf less than 50 feet away from
his family. "I didn't have time to get scared. All I could think
was, they release five or six at one time and I didn't know how
many more were out there. When it was all over...then...I was
so, so scared."
Buck staggered out of the undergrowth and came between Richard
and Helen on three legs. "He's moving under his own power and
not dragging his guts," Richard remembers thinking. Buck was seriously
mauled with several deep gashes and a badly shattered front leg.
Richard, an experienced hunter, made sure the wolf was dead. The
Humphreys bandaged Buck's wounds with towels and rushed to find
a veterinarian. They didn't take time to break camp and pack their
gear: the family was too concerned about Buck's condition. They
stopped at a state highway maintenance yard near their camp and
notified a lady of the shooting. "She was shocked," Richard recalls.
"She said they had a mule, didn't know that wolves had been released
nearby and worried the wolves might attack her mule."
The lady had no telephone. Richard, a by-the-book sort of
fellow, knew the mandatory 24-hour reporting period for killing
endangered species, so as they drove toward a vet's office in
Clifton-Morenci, Ariz., he used a construction worker's mobile
phone to notify Arizona Game and Fish of the incident. The doctor
was only at his office in Clifton-Morenci two days each week,
so they had to drive 100 miles to Safford, Ariz. to get suitable
medical attention for Buck. Before leaving Clifton they stopped
at a store and borrowed a pencil from a clerk to write down the
doctor's telephone number in Safford. They called his office to
let him know that they were en route with a dog that had been
injured by wolves. "The vet was ready for us," Richard says. "He
said it was one of the worse cases he had ever attended."
They left Buck at the animal hospital in Safford and began
the long trek back to their campsite. Stopping in Clifton-Morenci
to return the borrowed pencil, they met an undercover U.S. Fish
and Wildlife (FWS) officer filling a huge cooler with ice, presumably
for the wolf cadaver. The investigator was in a rush to get to
the scene before dark, so they followed him back to the campsite.
When they arrived at camp, their agonizing ordeal began in earnest.
The wolf attack and Buck's brush with death had traumatized
the family; even so, the investigator proceeded with his interrogation.
"He was undercover so we agreed not to disclose his name," Richard
says. "I invited him inside the tent to sit at the table and told
my story. An agent from Arizona Fish and Game, John Romero, had
arrived and stayed away from the tent as if he didn't want to
hear it. I thought he might be on our side a little more than
the federal agent so I called him over. He was very hesitant and
took no notes."
For six drawn-out weeks the questions and interrogations continued
by telephone and in person. The nameless agent and his supervisor
even brought the investigation to the Humphrey home. The inquisitors
had an unwelcome surprise waiting. Alarmed, Richard had an attorney
present and a video camera set up to record the meeting. "I could
tell they didn't like that! The supervisor played games with me;
he played hard to trip me up," Richard earnestly declares. "They
had questions and information from a biologist who obviously knew
nothing. They were concerned about the way the bullet went in
and weren't even sure if Buck had been attacked. I asked them
if they had checked the dead wolf for dog bites. They had not
even done that."
Likely the supervisor was making sure he covered his own tracks,
for the shooting had developed into a media spectacle, a push
and shove soapbox melodrama between environmental activists and
the FWS. Richard had accidentally become a political pawn and
scapegoat. Facing prison and financial ruin, he was painfully
aware of his jeopardous position.
Environmentalist groups were enraged that FWS did not prosecute
Humphrey, and they took their views public with the help of willing
and often inaccurate media. Richard and his family watched helplessly
as a sly leak in FWS released inflammatory, slanted information,
and green activists convicted him in a kangaroo court frenzy of
newspaper and television interviews. "REAL MEN DON'T KILL WOLVES"
charged a bumper sticker printed and supplied to the public by
Tucson-based, Wildlife Damage Group. "Federal Wildlife officials
are lying and covering up the truth about the killing. The whole
so-called official account of this is a lie. I don't believe any
of it, not at all," spokesperson Nancy Zierenberg angrily stated
to the Tucson Citizen.
"We've got to make an example of this guy," demanded Bobbie
Holaday of Preserve Arizona's Wolves. "There is no excuse. It
is totally illegal."
Before the facts in the shooting or even Humphrey's name were
released, the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity (SWCBD)
pressed a demand for indictment. In a series of interviews with
the Tucson Citizen, their spokesman, Peter Galvin accused, "This
whole thing has turned out to be a travesty. The fact they have
failed to prosecute is just another indication that the U.S. government
is not making wolf recovery a priority. We are now examining our
Galvin threatened to charge FWS with "dereliction of duty"
because they did not charge the killer. He further indicated they
might seek legal action against the shooter. SWCBD used their
web site, and perhaps the FWS leak, to further polarize the public
by reporting, "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to
investigate the killing. They apparently do not believe the shooter's
story that the wolf attacked his dog. Even if the dog had been
attacked, it would not legally or morally justify killing a severely
endangered species. It is looking more and more like the killing
was malicious, not just ignorant."
During the whole outrage, Humphrey maintained his silence.
He sought the advice of confidante, G. J. Sagi, publisher of Outdoor
News and an experienced publicist. Sagi had known Humphrey for
years. "My mom was homebound and paralyzed because of a stroke,"
Sagi recalls. "She was in bad shape and dad had to stay with her
constantly. They would go for days without seeing anyone except
for their postman, Mr. Humphrey. He was concerned and would always
drop in with a cheery word and check on them when he delivered
the mail. I knew what kind of man I was helping."
Sagi and the Humphreys worked out a plan to counter the negative
publicity and inaccurate articles. Humphrey wanted a chance to
tell the true story. He and his family are deeply religious and
felt a blight on their name would be intolerable. The antagonistic
forces Humphrey was between had a lengthy chronicle of clashes.
Environmental activists had virtually litigated the U.S. Department
of the Interior into the March-April 1998 release, ignoring the
objections of those citizens who would be affected. New Mexico
Governor Gary E. Johnson vehemently opposed the release, bluntly
saying it was based on an "absence of credible information and
should not be endorsed by this office." The New Mexico Cattle
Growers Association, along with eight other livestock organizations
in New Mexico and Arizona, sued in late March 1998 against the
release of the wolves. Scant days following the filing of the
suit, wolves were covertly released with no public notice.
The vacationing Humphrey family had no hint of the release
controversy's magnitude when they inadvertently became the focal
point. They did not even know they were in a wolf release area.
"It was late afternoon when we arrived and began setting up camp,"
Richard recounts. "There was nothing posted. I had heard about
the release program, but all publicity indicated it was far to
the north in a wilderness area."
They had no way of knowing that the release pens, where wolves
were being fed road-kill twice per week by FWS, were not more
than a mile from their camp. FWS had guaranteed in public meetings
that "Notice of general wolf locations will be publicized." If
they had followed through with their pledges to the public, the
Humphreys' calamitous situation would not have occurred. "Had
there been signs identifying the area as a wolf release site,"
Richard acknowledges, "we would have never camped there!"
After spending years and almost $3 million on the wolf release
program, why would FWS release dangerous predators so close to
civilization and a major highway without posting warnings? Why
would they choose an area traveled by large numbers of tourists
where camping was common? One reason is that FWS contends that
wolves aren't dangerous. Their official line is, "There are no
documented cases of wolves attacking and killing or severely injuring
people in North America."
One wonders how much actual research went into that statement.
Recently documented attacks by wolves on humans were available
in several newspapers and in historical documents at the very
time FWS made their doubtful statement. (See sidebar.) Conceivably,
Mr. Humphrey was under criminal investigation for killing an animal
technically not a wolf. The science behind the Mexican wolf release
program is labeled as tainted by several biologists. They suggest
FWS released genetically-flawed animals, which are not really
wolves, but rather hybrids. The agency refutes the opposing reports
by quoting their own science. If the animals that attacked the
Humphrey family were wolf-dog hybrids, attacks on humans were
likely and well documented. Even Wolf Park, staunch defender of
wolves, circulates wolf-dog warnings. "A person, especially a
child who tripped and fell, or who is moaning, crying, or screaming,
may be considered wounded prey and attacked. Grave injuries, even
death, are all too frequent in such cases."
In a current effort to ban wolf-dogs in Virginia, the Humane
Society sent fact-sheets to Virginians urging them to contact
their legislature to ban wolf-dogs. The literature portrays wolf-dogs
as potential killers and claims attacks are disturbingly common.
Six grinding, nervous weeks after the shooting, the nightmare
was finally over for the father and husband who simply defended
his family. He was informed no charges would be filed.
Richard now resolutely believes the wolf release is dangerous
and wrong. He is humble, but serious, when he says, "We didn't
have to go public, but wanted to tell people about our experience,
and hope and pray it will prevent this from happening to others."
Helen, the lady of few but earnest words, is straightforward
in expressing her feelings. "We feel that both the wolf and our
family are victims. They put out a potentially dangerous animal-an
animal that is not afraid of man, which was fed by man, and put
too close to man. There were no warnings that wolves were in the
area. The vets say our dog will never fully recover; and I'm just
thankful it wasn't my children who were injured. The wolf did
go after my husband, daughters, and me. My husband had no choice.
He was protecting us. I hope that what happened to us never happens
to anyone else."
* * *
J. Zane Walley is a writer from Lincoln, N.M. "I wanted to
really feel what the Humphrey family felt when a wolf rushed at
them," he said, "so I called my neighbor who has a hybrid wolf
and asked if I could get in the pen. He let me. The wolf was on
a long chain and promptly charged me. The fear that involuntarily
ran through my veins was instantaneous and left me weak. When
I interviewed Kieran Suckling, loyal champion of the wolf-release
program and director of the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity,
he stated that regardless of circumstances, Mr. Humphrey should
be indicted. I recounted my 'Wolf Pen' interview and sincerely
extended Mr. Suckling the same opportunity, adding, "Without the
chain of course." Oddly I thought, for a person who believes harmony
with beasts is protection from them, he sure declined in a hurry.
Meeting the Humphrey family was a pleasure. They seem to have
retained what so much of America has lost, a loving relationship
with each other. Buck is mending slowly. After nine weeks his
leg is still in a full-length splint, but Buck's courage and devotion
to the family is undaunted. When I visited the Humphrey home,
old Buck, Buck the Brave, painfully and unwaveringly hobbled between
the children and me. The defiant, vigilant look on his scarred,
gray face said it all.