Peter Friederici / KNAU News Team / Arizona Public Radio
In eastern Arizona, people and wolves are again learning to live together.
Not too long ago, Apache peoples and gray wolves shared the rugged lands of central Arizona and New Mexico. Apache warriors sometimes recited a ritual song before they went out to fight. "Let me be powerful like the wolf," they sang.
The arrival of new settlers from the east changed all that. Apache peoples were restricted to several reservations, and the wolves were wiped out in order to benefit hunters and cattle ranchers. Only a few survived in zoos.
Fortunately, that's not the end of the story. In 1998 federal biologists began releasing captive-bred wolves in far eastern Arizona. The wolves have successfully hunted and successfully reared young. But many have been killed by illegal shooting or by cars in their national forest home, which is popular with hunters and campers.
In March the White Mountain Apache Tribe formally agreed to allow wild wolves back on its extensive reservation. That gives the wolves more room to roam, in a place where they'll encounter fewer people.
It also represents the rebirth of a cultural link. At the official ceremony where the tribe's agreement was signed, an Apache musician once again sang the traditional wolf song, which had been forgotten by all but a few older tribal members.
Tribal officials hope that the wolf's presence will result in new economic opportunities, such as eco-tourism or the marketing of predator-friendly beef. Thanks to the persistence of a few people, and a few wolves, an ancient tradition of coexistence is continuing into a new millennium.