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In The News: A gray wolf or a hybrid near the Grand Canyon? Authorities say they don't know

Arizona Daily Star, 10/30/2014 Letters Needed!

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Tony Davis

Authorities are trying to figure out if a wolflike animal discovered near Grand Canyon National Park is an endangered gray wolf from the Rocky Mountains or a wolf-dog hybrid.

The animal was first spotted about three weeks ago near the canyon's North Rim on the Kaibab Plateau of the Kaibab National Forest, Fish and Wildlife Service officials Steve Spangle and Jeff Humphrey said today. Authorities have obtained photos of the animal taken by members of the public.

"We don’t know the origin, whether it’s a pure wolf or wolf dog hybrid, or where it came from," said Steve Spangle, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field supervisor in Phoenix. "We're working with Arizona Game and Fish and others, to try to figure out the best approach. We would like to capture it."

The service needs to get a permit from itself to capture an endangered species and that takes 30 days, Spangle said. But the Reuters news agency quoted a wildlife service spokeswoman in Albuquerque, Charna Lefton, as saying the service is sending a team to the Grand Canyon area to try to capture the wolf.

Authorites are also trying to obtain scat from the animal to discern its identity, Spangle said. The only way to tell for sure if it's an actual wolf or a wolf-dog hybrid is through DNA analysis, he said.

News of the possible wolf discovery in the Grand Canyon was first released today by four environmental groups, including the Defenders of Wildlife and the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity. Their news release hailed this event as the first sighting of a gray wolf in the Grand Canyon area in about 70 years. If this is a gray wolf, this is a strong sign that the federal government shouldn't go through with its plans to remove the wolf from the federal endangered species list, they said.

The gray wolf is a separate subspecies from the Mexican wolf, which the feds have released into Southeastern Arizona. From there, it has roamed into Southwestern New Mexico.

Authorities had withheld information about the animal's discovery to protect it from curiosity seekers, Spangle said.

Michael Robinson, of the Center for Biological Diversity, said his group doesn't necessarily oppose eventually capturing the animal, but said that shouldn't be the service's first priority.

"Their first reaction should be insuring the animal is made as safe as possible," said Robinson, a conservation advocate for the center. "It is a very good idea to obtain some of its scat and test it. That should be first step, not planning for capture."

Robinson added, "I agree that one can’t come to an absolute conclusion based on photos. DNA is the correct tool."

This article was published by the AZ Daily Star

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Letters Needed!
Please thank the AZ Daily Star for covering this important news about Mexican wolves and express your support for wolf recovery with a letter to the editor. One short letter from you can 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.

Letter to the Editor Talking Points:
  • Wolves were once native to this area but were extirpated by a federal extermination program in the late 1800's and early 1900's. News of a possible wolf in this area after a more than 70 year absence is historic and cause for celebration.
  • Gray wolves are currently federally protected under the Endangered Species Act in Arizona. If this is a wolf, its protection should be the highest priority.
  • If confirmed, this is an example of what \wolf recovery should look like: animals naturally dispersing to their historic habitat. Science has confirmed that there is great habitat in the Grand Canyon ecoregion, and a wolf’s presence on the north rim would be proof that the science is right.
  • This reinforces how critical continued federal protections for gray wolves are right now. Because gray wolves are still federally protected in the majority of the continental USA, wolves would be able to safely migrate through one if not two states (CO and UT) to occupy some of their best available historic habitat.
  • A national wolf delisting will remove these protections across most of the continental United States, giving states the authority to manage them as they see fit. With patchwork state protection for the species at best, and overt persecution of wolves at worst, continued wolf dispersal into unoccupied habitat would be dramatically hampered if not blocked altogether with the end of federal protections.
  • Wolves from the north and south historically met, interbred and thrived in the Southern Rockies. Today there is an abundance of suitable wolf habitat in southern Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.
Make sure you:
  • Thank the paper for publishing the article.
  • Keep your letter brief, no more than 150 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.
  • Submit your letter here.
Photo: National Park Service
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