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Howls Over Wolf Compromise Unjustified

Editorial:  Arizona Daily Sun

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If there is a wild animal that evokes stronger feelings in modern-day humans than the wolf, we’d be surprised. Based on website comments and chain letters from around the country every time we publish a story on wolves, the lobo comes out on top of more than just the food chain.

In Arizona, the endangered Mexican gray wolf has been the focus of a reintroduction and recovery plan since 1998. There are fewer than a hundred wolves in the wild, but ranchers in the reintroduction zone on the Arizona/New Mexico border say even that number is too many. Sportsmen have also come down on the side of limiting the pack and shifting the wolves farther south across the border into Mexico.

But many conservationists say a top predator like the Mexican gray wolf needs far more animals – as many as 700 -- and room to roam if the species is to avoid genetic inbreeding. They also contend that directing the wolfpacks northward would open up prime elk and deer country north of the Grand Canyon.

So now, after several years of research and hearings, federal wildlife officials have issued a new wolf recovery plan and split the difference between the two camps: 300 wolves ranging from the Mexican border in Arizona and New Mexico to Interstate 40. Ranchers won’t be allowed to kill wolves caught harassing livestock, but federal biologists could -- or at least harass them with rubber bullets.

And based on the howls from both sides, we know it must be a good compromise.

To conservationists, anything less than 700 animals doesn’t represent full recovery. And to support that number means extending the range onto the North Kaibab and the southern Rocky Mountains of New Mexico. One group has already filed a lawsuit, despite assurances from U.S. Fish and Wildlife that the plan for 300 wolves is not necessarily the final blueprint for the species.

On the other side, Arizona Game and Fish has already asked to assume responsibility for the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction project, contending all wild animals are the property of the state. But as long as the subspecies, unlike the northern gray wolf, continues to be listed as endangered, the feds will retain jurisdiction.

Practically speaking, we’re not sure that setting Interstate 40 as a rigid boundary for the roaming packs is very safe, unless wolves are taught to read road signs or use highway undercrossings. Wouldn’t it be safer to set the line 10 miles to the south so that biologists have some advance warning before an animal has a close encounter with a semi?

As for lobo-loving residents of the city of Flagstaff, which straddles Interstate 40, the issue might come down to what to do with wolves spotted north of the highway. Will wolf defenders turn them in or take them in? And will their radio collars give away the location of those sheltered refugees before they can be spirited northward toward freedom on the North Kaibab?

All kidding aside, it’s one thing for a wolf reintroduction zone to be located primarily in a remote national park or forest high in the mountains. The northern gray wolf has thrived in Yellowstone Park.

But redraw the map to include major metropolitan areas like Phoenix and Tucson, as well as busy interstate highway corridors, and the likelihood of wolf-human encounters increases exponentially. Federal biologists have a duty to prepare residents of those zones for a new top predator potentially in their midst.

As for the wolves, we don’t see them losing the top spot on our weekly “Most Read Story” list anytime soon.


This editorial was published in the Arizona Daily Sun on December 11, 2014.

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Please help endangered Mexican wolves by submitting letters to the editor and official comments on the proposal.
Letters to the editor are read by many people, including policy makers, and can have a great deal of influence. 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.

Submit your letter to the Editor of the Daily Sun HERE.

Talking points
  • Start by thanking the paper for publishing this editorial.
  • Wolves help restore balance to the ecosystems they inhabit. They are important native animals, they belong here, and we should do everything in our power to ensure their recovery.
  • 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.  Additional wolves must be released into the wild now to increase the genetic health of the species.
  • There should be no cap on the number of Mexican wolves allowed to live in the wild. Top carnivores like Mexican gray wolves play an important role in ecosystem restoration and will balance themselves with their prey as they did for millennia before humans intervened. The proposed changes should focus on increasing the wild population’s genetic health and moving the wolves towards recovery, rather than promising that lobos can be killed if they increase beyond an arbitrary number.
  • USFWS should not allow more killing of critically endangered wolves. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal will push Mexican gray wolves towards extinction by allowing many more of them to be killed under all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with science or recovery, including for eating their natural prey to survive. These native lobos need more protections, not less.
  • Wolves need freedom from boundaries. Given room to roam, the wolves will establish themselves in suitable areas with adequate game. They will generally avoid places with high densities of humans and low prey availability. 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.
Make sure you:
  • Thank the paper for covering Mexican wolf topics.
  • Keep your letter brief, between 150-250 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.
Where to submit your letter to the Editor HERE.


Please also submit comments on the proposed rule change. Information and talking points for your official comments are here.
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Photo credit: Scott Denny