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In the News: Arizona Game And Fish Blasts Federal Wolf Recovery Plan

Payson Roundup, Proposed revised plan for wolves controversial - September 2, 2014

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There’s an old saying when it comes to newspapering that if everyone’s mad at you, then you must be doing something right.

By that measure, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is doing just the right thing with its latest plan to recover Mexican gray wolves by dramatically expanding both their range and the reasons ranchers, homeowners, game wardens and biologists can kill or remove them.

The USFWS analysis said the wolves cannot establish a self-sustaining population without a dramatic expansion in the area they’re allowed to live, including a connection to the Sierra Madres in Mexico, where the government is also trying to reintroduce the endangered subspecies of the gray wolf.

The plan has come under withering fire from ranchers, hunters and the Arizona Game and Fish Commission on one side for opening the door to reintroducing captive-reared wolves in most areas of the state south of Interstate 40 — including all of Rim Country.

On the other hand, conservation groups have decried provisions in the revised rules that consider the whole Mexican gray wolf population non-essential and make it easier to kill or recapture wolves who harass or kill livestock, domestic animals or even too many deer and elk.

The Arizona Game and Fish Commission has in many ways led the opposition to the expansion of the wolf recovery area

The Commission recently urged the Fish and Wildlife to reconsider the huge expansion of the wolf range to most of Arizona and much of New Mexico from the much smaller area along the Arizona-New Mexico border near Alpine where more than a decade of effort has resulted in the establishment of wolf packs totaling 83 wolves.

The commission urged the federal government to include the Arizona Cooperator’s Alternative developed by 28 agencies and stakeholders. That plan would have limited the expanded wolf reintroduction area to an area bounded by Interstate 40 on the north, Highway 87 on the west, and the Mexican border on the south. That plan would have limited the introduction of new wolf packs to the current recovery area near the Blue Ridge Wilderness near Alpine, but allowed wolves to wander out into that larger recovery area without being recaptured or shot.

The Commission directed the department to try to convince the Fish and Wildlife Service to adopt the Cooperator’s Alternative, but to prepare to lobby Congress and file lawsuits if USFWS refuses.

Game and Fish chairman Robert Mansell in a release said, “I am profoundly disappointed that the Service failed to include the Arizona Cooperator’s Alternative. The alternative does exactly what the Endangered Species Act requires the agencies to do: It allows the Mexican wolf population in the Southwest to expand using sound science and contribute to the recovery of the subspecies, while recognizing that recovery cannot be accomplished in Arizona and New Mexico alone.”

Mansell noted that the revisions in the plan proposed by the state “balances the need for expanded Mexican wolf reintroduction areas with social tolerance of those most affected by the program.”

The Cooperator’s Alternative would include a tripling of the target population for the recovery effort — from 100 to 300. It would accept an expansion in the range of the wolves from about 1 million acres to about 11 million acres. It would also establish a corridor along which wolves could roam on into Mexico.

Mansell said resistance by ranchers, hunters and residents of the towns in the expanded wolf recovery area could doom the program. “The biology of wolf repatriation has been relatively easy. The greatest challenge has been to develop social tolerance for the program,” said Mansell. “Without social tolerance, Mexican wolf recovery will never achieve full success.
However, many conservationist groups maintain the proposal doesn’t go nearly far enough in giving the wide-ranging wolves a chance to return to the lands they roamed before they were hunted nearly to extinction in the 20th century.

Groups advocating for the return of the wolves to the Southwest want to include almost all of Arizona and New Mexico, particularly the wild, virtually unsettled areas in and around the Grand Canyon — particularly the North Rim.

Moreover, they say the new rules make it far too easy for a rancher of pet owner to kill a wolf and claim they acted to protect their animals. The rules would make it relatively easy for ranchers to ask Game and Fish to remove problem wolves and would also provide reimbursement for livestock killed by wolves.

Sandy Bahr, with the Sierra Club, said the rules will prevent the recovery of the wolves even with an expanded reintroduction area. The USFWS has removed or killed almost as many wolves as it has released under the current, less permissive rules.

Bahr noted that the program provides reimbursement for cattle losses, but does nothing to require ranchers to manage their herds in a way to reduce wolf kills — like keeping young calves in more protected areas and removing cattle killed by other causes. A wolf pack may develop a taste for cattle after scavenging carcasses.

Bahr also criticized a rule that would allow for the removal of wolf packs if they had too big an impact on elk and deer populations, which constitute the wolves’ major source of food. When wolves returned to Yellowstone National Park, elk herds dropped by 50 percent, according to some studies. That benefited riparian areas and a host of other species, but it would likely have a big impact on hunting success. Wolf advocates counter that the wolves in the recovery area have had little impact on elk and deer populations so far.

Bahr sharply criticized the Arizona Game and Fish position. “The department and commission should be embarrassed by their conduct and that they endorsed an alternative that is contrary to federal law and the best science. We do need balance and to achieve that balance, we need wolves and other predators restored to the Southwestern landscape. What we don’t need is another ‘planned’ extinction for wolves. Arizona Game and Fish should spend less time trying to convince us that it is doing the right thing and spend more time actually doing the right thing.”


This article was published in the Payson Roundup on September 2, 2014.

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Endangered Mexican Wolves Need Your Help!

With fewer than 90 Mexican gray wolves in the wild, US Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to make changes that could push them closer to extinction or finally help them thrive. The decision will be made in the next few months and they need to hear from you!

Submit a letter to the editor
responding to this article and influence decision-makers and thousands of your fellow citizens. 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

  • Start by thanking the paper for this article.
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) should move forward with allowing new wolves to be released throughout the larger area proposed.The Mexican gray wolf is the most endangered mammal in the U.S. with only about 83 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.
  • USFWS should not allow more killing of critically endangered wolves. The draft proposal will push Mexican gray wolves towards extinction by allowing many more of them to be killed under all kinds of justifications. With fewer than 90 in the wild, every wolf is important. These native lobos need more protections, not less.
  • Wolves once lived throughout Arizona and New Mexico 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. People who care about wolves have an important opportunity to speak out for their recovery through September 23, 2014.  Comments can be submitted electronically here:  http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FWS-R2-ES-2013-0056-6056.  More information can be found atmexicanwolves.org.
  • Wolves need freedom from boundaries. Given room to roam, the wolves will establish themselves in suitable areas with adequate game. They will naturally avoid places with high densities of humans and low prey availability. USFWS must change the rules that do not allow wolves to establish new packs and populations in additional areas that are essential to their recovery.
  • Additional populations of Mexican wolves north of I-40 are necessary to their recovery and genetic health, as is the ability for wolves to move between populations. Capturing and moving wolves because they roam beyond an artificial boundary 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 16 years of experience with reintroducing wolves. The 83 wolves in the wild have up to 5 generations of experience in establishing packs and raising pups and are over 22% of all of the Mexican wolves in the world.The fifth generation wild lobos are not expendable and are essential to recovering this unique subspecies of wolf. 
  • The USFWS needs to quit stalling and complete a comprehensive recovery plan. USFWS admits that their 1982 recovery plan is not scientifically sound and does not meet current legal requirements – yet in its proposed rule USFWS continues to ignore the best available science and the recommendations of its own science recovery planning subgroup.
Make sure you:
  • Thank the paper for publishing the article.
  • Do not repeat any negative messages from the article.  Remember that those reading your letter will not be looking at the article it responds to, so this is an opportunity to get out positive messages about wolf recovery rather than to argue with the original article.
  • Keep your letter brief, between 150-300 words.
  • Make your letter personal. Don't be afraid to use humor or personal stories. Include something about who you are and why you care: E.g. “I am a mother, outdoors person, teacher, business owner, scientific, religious, etc.”
  • Provide your name, address, phone number and address.  The paper won’t publish these, but they want to know you are who you say you are.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE USFWS PROPOSAL
AND SUBMIT COMMENTS, CLICK HERE.

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