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In the News: Gov. Doug Ducey's hard line sets up battle over expanding Mexican wolf territory

The Arizona Republic, 1/14/16 – Your Letters to the Editor are Needed!

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Mexican gray wolf supporters say the endangered animals need the Grand Canyon.

Arizona’s hard line against expanding Mexican gray wolf territory sets up a battle between those who want to keep the endangered predator away from the Grand Canyon and those who say its survival odds are slim without the new turf.

In November, Gov. Doug Ducey and the governors of New Mexico, Utah and Colorado sent a joint letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. The governors argued that 90 percent of the wolves' historical range was in Mexico and that "any serious recovery planning effort must include a Mexico-centric approach rather than translocation of the subspecies out of its historical range."

On Thursday, wolf supporters rallied outside the Arizona Capitol and then delivered a petition with 5,500 signatures to the governor's office asking him to reconsider.

While the governors say the wolves have never roamed in the territory north of Interstate 40, wolf supporters say in today’s reality — where most former Mexican habitat is private ranch land or otherwise altered — the wolf must look north to find deer, elk and solitude for survival.

They noted that various polls over the last decade have placed Arizonans’ support for wolf recovery in the state at more than 70 percent.

“Arizonans want wolves,” said Sandy Bahr, the Sierra Club’s Arizona chapter leader.

Ed Coleman of Mesa attended the rally and agreed. The retiree said he has seen and heard wolves in their existing recovery zone by a home he owns in Nutrioso.

“There’s nothing that gives you goosebumps like the sound of a wolfpack howling in the night,” he said.

Mexican gray wolves are a smaller subspecies of the larger wolves that inhabit the northern Rocky Mountains. They were native to Arizona and New Mexico forests before being wiped out in the 20th century.

There were only seven genetically distinct Mexican gray wolves alive in the 1980s. Biologists bred pups in captivity for a reintroduction into the Blue Range overlapping the Arizona-New Mexico boundary starting in 1998.

A year ago, the government counted at least 110 wolves living wild in the two states, which was a modern record and a marked increase from the previous year. Another record is expected when biologists announce their latest annual count this month.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is attempting to write a long-stalled recovery plan for the lobo. Scientists working on a previously shelved draft suggested a goal of 750 in three connected populations, likely requiring new zones including the forests around the Grand Canyon.

The state has opposed that idea, and the governors’ November letter complains that scientists assigned to the latest planning effort are biased toward it.

Where the wolves lived before American settlers and the government hunted them to extinction is a matter of debate, but one that some wildlife advocates say may be irrelevant to the subspecies’ survival today. They say wolves have to go where there’s room and prey to support them, and the Grand Canyon is a strong candidate along with southwestern Colorado and southern Utah.

“They may be the only places that will work,” said Eva Sargent, Southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife.

Wolf supporters dispute the governors’ assertions about historical ranges and point to a new study by a team of evolutionary biologists showing that old wolf specimens found as far north as Utah and Nebraska at least shared Mexican wolf genes, indicating cross-breeding with the northern gray wolves.

Supporters also question whether Mexico really held 90 percent of the habitat, as the governors’ claim, or just the last stronghold before captive breeding.

“This (assertion) is based on hunting records from the 1800s and early 1900s,” said Emily Renn, executive director of the nonprofit Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project. “They had pretty much already been pretty much wiped out through deliberate hunting campaigns in Arizona and New Mexico and farther north.”

It’s ironic, Renn said, that wolf opponents such as elk hunters want to limit where wolves roam but don’t mind shooting elk that were imported from the northern Rocky Mountains after a local subspecies went extinct.

Ducey’s staff was not present when Bahr delivered the petition on Thursday and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department contends that the bulk of scientific evidence supports a historical range south of the Mogollon Rim and that there's no need to push north.

"It is the department's opinion that recovery is progressing well," said Jim deVos, assistant director for wildlife management.

The Game and Fish Commission also opposes shifting the wolf recovery zone north.

Commission Chairman Kurt Davis said the welfare of other species is at stake. For instance, he said, a subspecies of mule deer native to the Kaibab Plateau north of the Grand Canyon isn’t accustomed to Mexican gray wolves.

“You’d be fundamentally altering that ecosystem,” he said.

Davis agreed with the governors that there’s no proof of historical Mexican wolf range at or north of the Grand Canyon. He said it’s a “convenient” argument for wolf advocates to suggest recovery is impossible in Mexico.

A small reintroduced population, perhaps a quarter the size of the American Southwest’s, currently lives there.

“Species have been worked on international relationships all the time,” Davis said.

Former Game and Fish Commissioner Beth Woodin attended the Capitol rally and said she believes wolves did live at the Grand Canyon and beyond.

“We’re putting back a puzzle that’s rather incomplete,” she said. “Having political squabbles isn’t going to help.”

This article was published in the Arizona Republic.


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Letters Needed!

The recent Mexican gray wolf rallies in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico
and Utah have generated a flurry of media and press.

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.

Submit your letter to The Arizona Republic HERE.


Talking points

  • The commission seems to be missing some facts – new research shows Mexican gray wolves ranged into Colorado and southern Utah, and wolves of one type or another were everywhere in the North America at one time.
  • For over 10,000 years, gray wolves lived throughout the Southwest and played an important role in shaping the landscape and maintaining balance in nature.  Under state management, most subspecies of wolves were hunted and trapped to extinction.  The highly endangered Mexican gray wolf is the most appropriate surviving subspecies for recovery in Utah and Colorado, and they cannot recover without help from all four states.
  • Historic range is irrelevant. Mexico and the Western U.S. have been transformed by human settlement and varying laws.  Recovery of Mexican gray wolves cannot occur wholly in Mexico.  There are no large blocks of public lands, there is not a great deal of suitable habitat and prey, and there may not be enough resources to do the job.
  • If wolves “fundamentally alter the ecosystem” as Commissioner Davis suggests, it will be for the best, as they’ve been absent too long. We need wolves, be they Mexican gray wolves or northern wolves, to help repair wildlands.  Yellowstone has taught us the important role of top predators in ecosystems with the return of songbirds, beavers, fish and trees.  Why shouldn’t the Grand Canyon have the same benefits seen in Yellowstone?
  • It’s hypocritical for the governors to argue that Mexican wolves should be excluded based on whether they are “native.”  The state game agencies have no problem moving game species and fish into places they never lived simply for the convenience of hunters and fishermen.
  • Governor Ducey is setting himself and his commission apart from the majority of Arizonans who support our wildlife – including predators. Governor Ducey would love to have the polling numbers wolves enjoy in Arizona.
  • Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed a scientific integrity complaint in 2012 saying that US Fish and Wildlife Service allowed politics to interfere with the new Mexican wolf recovery planning process by encouraging scientists to lower or forgo the numeric target for recovery, responding to state demands to exclude Utah, Colorado, and Northern Arizona from suitable habitat, and attempting to prevent the science subgroup from issuing final Mexican wolf recovery criteria - http://www.klamathconservation.org/docs/carrolletal2013.pdf - . The state is using out of date information – newer studies support a more northward range for Mexican gray wolves historically.  Genetic research has found evidence of Mexican wolf genetic markers in Utah and Colorado, and as far north as Nebraska.
  • The Endangered Species Act does not require recovery to occur within species’ historic range.
  • States have failed to manage wildlife as a public trust for current and future citizens.  State wildlife policies, which kill off predators to supposedly support game populations, are rooted in the 1800s. Fortunately, our national policy is to restore and preserve all forms of wildlife, including predators.  Until the states get serious about balancing conservation vs. consumption, they should recuse themselves from decisions about endangered species.
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service needs to stop letting anti-wolf state officials obstruct wolf recovery.  The last effort to create a Mexican wolf recovery plan stalled precisely because the states were given opportunities to weigh in before the work of the scientific experts was released for public comment. The most recent recovery planning process, which began in 2011, ended amidst allegations of political interference by these same states with the science.
Letter Writing Tips 

Make sure you:
  • Thank the paper for this article and make sure to reference the article in your letter.
  • Submit your letter as soon as possible. The chance of your letter being published declines after a day or two since the article was published.
  • Do not repeat any negative messages, such as “so and so said that wolves kill too many cows, but…”  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, no more than 200 words. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.
  • Include something about who you are and why you care: E.g. “I am a mother, outdoors person, teacher, business owner, scientific, religious, etc.” Don’t be afraid to be personal and creative.
  • 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 to The Arizona Republic HERE.

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WANT TO DO MORE FOR LOBOS?

Please also call or email the Governor.
Tell him/his staff that as an Arizona resident and wolf supporter, you are disappointed in his actions to obstruct wolf recovery. Ask him to respect the peer-reviewed research of the Mexican gray wolf science and planning subgroup and to use his influence to ensure the wolves’ recovery, for their own sake and for the sake of the lands they will help restore.
Phone: 602.542.4331602.542.4331
Email


Messages to Interior Secretary Jewell and USFWS Director Dan Ashe will make a difference as well, since they have authority over the Mexican wolf reintroduction. Act here.

Thank you for speaking out for lobos!

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