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In the News: Threat of lawsuit puts damper on wolf legislation

Arizona Capitol Times, February 2, 2015 - Letters needed!

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Lawmakers have been largely quiet on Mexican gray wolves so far this session, possibly because Arizona Game and Fish is threatening federal wildlife authorities with a lawsuit if the wolf recovery program isn’t updated.

Last year’s session saw heated arguments over the wolf’s fate in Arizona. SB1211, sponsored by Republican Sen. Gail Griffin of Hereford, would have allowed the Department of Agriculture and livestock operators to take, which could include kill or injure any Mexican wolf that is in the act of biting, killing, or wounding a domestic animal. Republican Rep. Bob Thorpe of Flagstaff authored HB2699, which would have pulled the state out of the wolf recovery program, which is designed to reintroduce wolves into their habitat, if livestock operators weren’t compensated for losses.

Then-Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed both bills, saying they conflicted with federal law. “A state simply does not have the power to allow a take on federal lands,” Brewer wrote in the veto letter for SB1211.

The final count for 2014 found 83 Mexican gray wolves, approximately half of which live in Arizona, according to Arizona Game and Fish.

Since Brewer’s vetoes, Arizona Game and Fish filed a notice of intent to the secretary of the Department of the Interior and the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Jan. 6, calling for the federal government to come up with a full recovery plan as required by the Endangered Species Act.

“The current recovery plan for Mexican wolves developed in 1982 is so outdated that it no longer provides an adequate framework to guide the recovery effort,” the state agency said in its press statement announcing the potential lawsuit.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revised its rules for the Mexican wolf in January, quadrupling the primary habitat where wolves are expected and increasing tenfold the area wolves in captivity can be released. The rule also put a cap of 300-325 wolves for the recovery program.

But the rules don’t provide a long-term look at what full recovery would mean, said Jim DeVos, assistant director for wildlife management at Game and Fish. Fish and Wildlife has tried repeatedly to put together a recovery plan without success, DeVos said.

“A lot of it has to do with the emotion and controversy that surround the Mexican wolf. … There are those that would like to drive a recovery plan that’s different than what the state of Arizona and Arizona Game and Fish think is lawful and biologically reasonable,” DeVos said.

The Department of the Interior has 60 days to respond to Arizona Game and Fish’s notice. If there’s no response, Game and Fish will pursue civil action, it said.

The Center for Biological Diversity joined other conservation groups in a lawsuit against U.S. Fish and Wildlife to make the service create a full recovery plan, similar to the hopes of Arizona Game and Fish, said Michael Robinson, the center’s conservation advocate. The end goals of the conservation groups and Game and Fish are likely different, though, he said.

“These animals are a critical part of the ecosystem here in the Southwest. They have been so persecuted. … It behooves us to give these animals a little space, allow them to benefit the ecosystem and allow them to benefit us as well,” Robinson said.

Griffin introduced one bill this session – SB1185 – that would provide $250,000 from the general fund to the Attorney General’s Office for litigation costs associated with a “challenge against any expansion of the Mexican wolf recovery program in this state.” Griffin ran a similar bill last year, but it was held in the House after passing the Senate.

Griffin couldn’t be reached for comment, but she has been consistently critical of the wolf recovery program. At a Senate Rural Affairs Committee on Jan. 20, Griffin called the program an example of federal overreach.

“I can think of better ways to spend money. … Greenlee County does not want them. Cochise County does not want them,” Griffin said during the committee meeting.

Sen. Sylvia Allen plans to sponsor a bill that would provide monetary relief to ranchers whose livelihoods are affected by Mexican gray wolves, she said. The bill, which she expects to file this week, would allow the state to tap into federal funds through the Farm Service Agency’s Livestock Indemnity Program. The bill would set up a livestock loss board of stakeholders to review cases.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club-Grand Canyon chapter, said she expects to see more legislation related to the Endangered Species Act. But any legislation or litigation means delays for recovery, she said.

“Delay is not the friend of the wolf. We need wolves to be able to go into larger areas. There need to be larger areas to reintroduce wolves and to promote the maximum genetic diversity. Delaying action obviously means more wolves in captivity and that’s not where they belong,” Bahr said.

This article was published in Arizona Capitol Times.

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Although the Arizona Capitol Times is an online subscription based news source, you can still send a letter to the editor in support of Mexican gray wolf recovery.


The letters to the editor page is one of the most widely read, influential parts of the newspaper. One letter from you can reach thousands of people and will also likely be read by decision-makers.  Tips and talking points for writing your letter are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience. Your letter will be most effective if you focus on a few key points rather than trying to cover all of these.  Submit your letter here.

Talking points specifically about the rule change:

  • New management rules for endangered Mexican wolves have some of the changes needed but other provisions that set a low cap on numbers, allow more killing of these wolves and keep them from habitat above I-40 will prevent recovery.
  • A good change in the new rule is that it expands the area where new wolves can be released into the wild where they belong. 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.
  • Expanding the area where the wolves can live is another positive change, but there should be no boundary at I-40. The boundary set in the new rule will keep Mexican wolves from establishing new populations in the areas north of I-40, which scientists say is necessary to their recovery.
  • 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 US Fish and Wildlife Service 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 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. With so few in the wild, every wolf is important. 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. The USFWS proposal does not allow wolves to establish new packs and populations in additional areas that are essential to their recovery.
  • The USFWS should designate Mexican gray wolves as essential. By labeling all of the wild wolves as “nonessential”  in the new rule, the USFWS ignores science and the reality of 16 years of experience with reintroducing wolves.The 83 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 fourth 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 it has not moved forward with recovery planning and the new rules ignores recommendations from scientists on the recovery planning team.
General Talking Points about the value of recovering Mexican wolves:
  • Wolves are a benefit to the West and are essential to restoring the balance of nature.
  • Polling has shown consistently that the vast majority of Arizona and New Mexico voters support the Mexican wolf reintroduction.
  • Wildlife biologists believe that Mexican wolves will improve the overall health of the Southwest and its rivers and streams – just as the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone has helped restore balance to its lands and waters.
  • Mexican gray wolves are unique native animals. They are the rarest, most genetically distinct subspecies of gray wolf in North America and one of the most endangered wolves in the world.
  • Wolves generate economic benefits - a University of Montana study found that visitors who come to see wolves in Yellowstone contribute roughly $35.5 million annually to the regional economy
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, <200 words.
  • 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.

Thank you for giving these wonderful wolves a voice!

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