Arizona’s rare wild wolves may get some extra room to roam under a new management rule that federal officials are reviewing at public hearings starting this week.
Mexican gray wolves currently are confined to the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, an area of about 4.4 million acres in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. In Arizona, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes allowing the wolves to establish packs as far north as Interstate 40 and as far south as Interstate 10. Under the proposal, the agency would capture and return any wolves that roam beyond those boundaries.
Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation organization, fears that the decision to capture wayward wolves has already been made to the detriment of the species’ long-term survival in the Southwest. The group is pressing to have that part of the proposal dropped.
Hearings about the new wolf-management proposals start today in Denver and continue this week in Albuquerque and Sacramento, with a meeting in Pinetop on Dec. 3.
Wolves are fully protected as endangered species outside the wildlife-recovery area, but they are subject to officially sanctioned removals or shootings within it as a condition of their reintroduction. The wildlife-recovery area encompasses the Apache and Gila national forests.
The reintroduced wolves — 75 in Arizona and New Mexico at last official count in January — descend from a handful rounded up in the wild in the 1980s, and inbreeding is a concern.
Establishing new populations would both decrease the chance of a single catastrophe wiping out all wild Mexican gray wolves and increase genetic diversity, advocates hope.
“If you want real recovery,” Defenders of Wildlife President Jamie Rappaport Clark said, “then recovery is not condemning wolves to one little area leading into Arizona.”
Clark, a former Fish and Wildlife Service director during the Clinton administration, is seeking a meeting with Interior Department officials over the group’s concerns about new capture rules in Arizona that it believes would impose illegal restrictions on the wolf-recovery program.
The group points to a line from an Aug. 1 letter from Arizona Game and Fish Department director Larry Voyles to Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe, in which Voyles sought language in the rule that would mandate the capture of stray wolves. Voyles referred to previous discussions with Ashe “assuring us that any Mexican wolf dispersing outside the (established recovery area) would be captured and returned.”
Clark said, “If the service made an agreement like that, it was way out of line.” It would represent “a conscious decision to walk away from Mexican gray wolf recovery, and I’d say that’s illegal.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwestern region said that the agency coordinated with Arizona and other states on the proposal and that there is nothing unusual about that.
“As co-managers of the country’s natural resources,” assistant regional director Charna Lefton said in an e-mail, “the Service makes every effort to coordinate our actions concerning listed species with the affected state wildlife agencies. Our management of the Mexican wolf is no different.”
The proposal isn’t a final rule, Lefton noted.
“We are committed to a robust public-engagement process for this proposal and we have recently extended the public comment period on the proposed rule for a second time,” Lefton said.
Arizona Game and Fish spokesman Jim Paxon said the department wants to be sure the proposal maintains the policy of relocating dispersing wolves as the recovery zone changes.
“It is the department’s position and responsibility to fully define management concerns and elements for discussion in the (rule-making process),” Paxon said.
Defenders of Wildlife said wolves must be allowed to disperse or even be relocated north of I-40 for the population to reach safe recovery levels. The group favors letting wolves seek out new turf around the Grand Canyon and in southern Utah and Colorado, but it fears the federal agency already has promised the states that won’t happen.
“They need to infuse and bring in more wolves,” Clark said. “They need to look at additional recovery areas.
“There’s never been any doubt that the Grand Canyon can hold wolves.”
Cattle ranchers continue to oppose expansion of the reintroduction program that began in 1998. The program originally envisioned 100 wild wolves. Biologists have said that was an arbitrary goal not based on requirements of a self-sustaining population, but many see it as a limit.
“They have plenty of room and space in the Blue Range recovery area to reach the goal (of 100),” Arizona Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Patrick Bray said.
Conflicts between the predators and ranchers led government agents to hunt the wolves nearly to extinction last century, and Bray said conflicts are re-emerging now. Ranchers can live with wolves, he said, but within limits.
“We all fully understand it is the will of the public to have wolves on the ground,” he said. “We can accept that, but let’s make sure we are able to continue to operate our business.”
PLEASE TAKE ACTION FOR MEXICAN WOLVES
You can help ensure the future of the lobo by attending one of the public hearings in Albuquerque and Hon-Dah/Pinetop, by submitting comments to the Fish and Wildlife Service, and by writing a letter to the editor of the Arizona Republic.One letter from you can reach thousands of people and will also likely be read by decision-makers. Tips and talking points are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience. Don’t try to include all the talking points in your letter.
- While giving Mexican wolves their own Endangered Species Act listing is long overdue, delisting gray wolves throughout the U.S. is counter to protecting Mexican wolves. The proposed rule will leave gray wolves unprotected in places that scientists have said are needed for Mexican wolf recovery, making it more difficult to protect Mexican gray wolves even if they are allowed to expand into new areas.
- The USFWS should move forward with allowing new wolves to be released throughout the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. The Mexican gray wolf is the most endangered mammal in the U.S. with only about 75 in the wild. Additional wolves must be released into the wild now to increase the genetic health of the species. Numerous wolves are in captive breeding facilities around the country, prepared for, and awaiting, release.
- Wolves once lived throughout the west and played a critical role in keeping the balance of nature in place. We need to restore this important animal that has been missing for too long.
- Wolves need freedom from boundaries. Given room to roam, the wolves will establish themselves in suitable areas with adequate game. The USFWS proposal does not allow wolves to establish new packs and populations in additional areas that are essential to their recovery.
- Additional populations of Mexican wolves are necessary to their recovery and genetic health, as is the ability for wolves to move between populations.
- Capturing and moving wolves is always a risky business that can result in death or trauma to the wolf.
- The USFWS should designate Mexican gray wolves as essential. By labeling all of the wild wolves as “nonessential” the USFWS ignores science and the reality of 15 years of experience with reintroducing wolves.The 75 wolves in the wild have up to four generations of experience in establishing packs and raising pups and are over 22% of all of the Mexican wolves in the world.
- The USFWS needs to quit stalling and complete a comprehensive recovery plan at the same time as or before changing the current rule.
Make sure you:
- The likelihood of a person being hurt by a wolf is almost non-existent. In rural areas, people are far more likely to be harmed by things accepted as part of daily life, such as domestic dogs, livestock, or off-road vehicles. Mexican wolves are small, weighing 50-85 pounds, and tend to avoid people.
- Thank the paper for publishing this article.
- Include something about who you are and why you care: E.g. “I am mother, outdoors person, teacher, business owner, scientific, religious, etc.)
- Provide your name, phone number and address. The paper won’t publish these, but they want to know you are who you say you are.
Thank you for speaking out to save Mexican wolves!
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