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Public's Call of Wild

Ranchers may lose support of they don't respect public's desire to see wolves in the wild

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The Arizona Republic
June 29, 2008

Some ranchers continue to oppose the reintroduction of endangered Mexican gray wolves.

The public howls a different tune.

A recent poll found that 77 percent of Arizonans support the program. That breaks down to 46 percent who strongly support it and 31 percent who somewhat support the effort to bring the lobo back to an ecosystem that is incomplete without it.

The poll, conducted by Research and Polling Inc. and funded by a number of environmental groups, found that two-thirds of Arizonans polled support giving wolves more protection under the Endangered Species Act. Currently, these endangered wolves have a special classification that offers them less protection than other endangered species.

A similar poll in New Mexico found 69 percent support for wolf reintroduction. That breakdown was 37 percent who strongly support the program and 32 percent who somewhat support it.

Some opponents of wolf reintroduction have tried to discredit the poll because it was funded by environmental groups. But these findings are similar to public sentiments revealed in polls taken a decade ago when the reintroduction program began.

People understand that it was wrong for the federal government to fund the relentless hunting, trapping and poisoning of wolves that brought these top predators to near extinction. The slaughter was done for the sake of ranchers in an era when far less was understood about the value of predators to the ecosystem. What's more, in a rapidly urbanizing state, the value of public lands as wild places is steadily increasing.

Ranchers who continue to enjoy the privilege of leasing public land to graze their cattle need to show an appreciation for this new understanding of how to manage the public land.

The effort to re-establish healthy populations of wolves in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico reflects the public will.

Currently, people support addressing the needs of ranchers. Seventy-nine percent of Arizonans told pollsters they prefer helping ranchers reduce or prevent cattle-wolf conflicts. But only 11 percent wanted their tax dollars used to remove or kill wolves that cause trouble for ranchers, something that is happening too often under the current rules governing the reintroduction. Fifty-one percent supported reimbursing ranchers who give up their leases and get their cattle out of wolf country permanently.

Public support for ranchers is likely to erode unless ranchers show more respect for public wishes. The public wants wolves in the wild. Ranchers who want to remain on the public land are going to have to accept that.