Caught Twixt Beasts & Bureaucrats - New rules from a softer
society, far removed from the land.
1998 By J. Zane Walley
as printed in The Range Magazine
"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 words.
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
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
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 them."
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
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
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
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 legal options."
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
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
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
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.