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In the News: Feds Still Gathering Comments On Wolf Reintroduction Plans

Payson Roundup, November 21, 2013  (posted 11/26/13)

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Everyone has more time to sound off on plans to dramatically expand the area where endangered Mexican gray wolves can roam.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that it will continue taking comments until Dec. 17 on the plan to expand the reintroduction area for the wolves to include the southern two-thirds of New Mexico and much of central Arizona — including all of Rim Country.


Biologists concluded the current recovery area doesn’t provide enough suitable land for the highly territorial wolf packs and that the need to constantly remove wolves that stray outside the core area will make it impossible to establish a self-sustaining population.

Advocates for the wolf re-introduction program have largely supported the expansion, saying the current rules have led to the death or recapture of more than half of the wolves released and driven up the cost of the program. They note wolves virtually never harm people, avoid settled areas and generally prefer deer and elk and other game to cattle.

Critics of the program argue that some of the wolves have learned to prey on cattle and an expanding population of wolves will sharply reduce deer and elk populations, to the detriment of hunters, who contribute significantly to rural economies. They maintain the new rules will eventually bring wolves close to forest communities like Payson. They also fear that captive-reared wolves won’t act like normal, wild wolves — despite efforts to keep the captive reared wolves from getting used to people.

Gray wolves once roamed throughout North America since their extermination in the wild. Reintroduction efforts elsewhere have resulted in the removal of the gray wolf from the endangered species list, partly as a result of an unusual act of Congress. However, the smaller, distinct Mexican gray wolf remains endangered, despite a 15-year reintroduction effort.

Current plans include more hearings in Denver, Albuquerque, Sacramento and a Dec. 3 information meeting in Pinetop at the Hon-Dah Conference Center. The Pinetop meeting would include a 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. public information session and a 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. session for recorded comments on the proposal.

The controversy about the management of the wolf population even under the current rules got a nudge recently with the announcement that federal biologists will attempt to recapture three wolves thought to have killed cattle. The USFWS and the Arizona Game and Fish Department plan to use helicopters and tranquilizer darts to capture two males and one female implicated in attacks on cattle.

The Centers for Biological Diversity protested the plans to remove the three wolves. About 75 wolves remain in the wild, but only three breeding pairs. All of the wolves in the wild and in the captive breeding program are descended from seven wolves originally captured in the wild. Since the start of the reintroduction effort 15 years ago, government officials have removed 54 reintroduced wolves from the wild, including 19 killed accidentally in recapture efforts.

Removing the three wild-born wolves will hurt the struggling reintroduction effort, insisted Michael Robinson, conservation advocate for the Centers for Biological Diversity. “Fish and Wild­life has shot and trapped many genetically valuable [wolves], removed them to captivity and did not breed them in any case.”

The proposed overhaul of the rules would classify the Mexican gray wolves as an endangered subspecies. However, the rules would allow people to kill wolves that attack pets or threaten people and would allow ranchers to kill wolves that attack or harass cattle.


The main change would be that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could introduce wolves in a far larger area, including the southern two-thirds of New Mexico and a swath of central Arizona between Interstate 40 and Interstate 10. One option could expand that area all the way to the Mexican border, so that the Mexican gray wolves in the U.S. could perhaps mingle with small populations of Mexican gray wolves in the Sierra Madres of Mexico.

Studies show that wolves remain among the least likely to attack people of any predator — including bears or mountain lions common in much of Rim Country. There are no confirmed cases of attacks on people involving Mexican gray wolves, according to a summary of wolf attacks in Wikipedia.

By contrast, an average of about six Arizona drivers die each year after their cars hit elk on the roadway.

Part of the objection to reintroducing wolves comes from hunters who fear that wolf packs will reduce the number of deer and elk. When wolves returned to Yellowstone, they reduced elk herds by about 50 percent.

However, biologists said the introduction of the wolves also greatly benefited a host of other species including bald eagles and others that fed on the remains of the wolves’ kills. The return of the wolves also proved a huge boon to aspen and cottonwoods, which the huge herds of elk had decimated. A host of other species benefited from the recovery of the cottonwoods and aspen.


This article was published in the Payson Roundup.


Submit your letter to the Editor here.


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PLEASE TAKE ACTION FOR MEXICAN WOLVES!

You can help ensure the future of the lobo by attending the public hearing in Hon-Dah/Pinetop, by submitting comments to the Fish and Wildlife Service, and by writing a letter to the editor of the Payson Roundup.

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.

Talking points

  • 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.
  • 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.
Make sure you:
  • 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.
  • Submit your letter to the Editor of the Payson Roundup here.

Thank you for speaking out to save Mexican wolves!
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Photo credit: ErinMcCraken, Mesker Zoo