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Editorial: Top predator release requires more public education

Arizona Daily Sun – February 26, 2016 –Letters to the Editor are Needed

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There are animals that stir up strong emotions among nature lovers everywhere.

And then there are wolves, which push those passions off the charts. To some, they are the scourge of the settled West and the bane of sportsmen. To others, they are the pinnacle predator that will return balance to a disrupted food chain. There seems to be no middle ground.

At the risk of getting squeezed from both sides, we’ll try below to occupy that ground.

The immediate reason to engage the issue is a preliminary map showing new Mexican gray wolf release sites in Navajo County just east of the Coconino County line above the Mogollon Rim. But wolf reintroduction has been a hot-button issue in Arizona for nearly a decade, so there aren’t too many new points to make.

Our position has been and remains to take a go-slow approach to reintroduction that balances sustainable pack numbers with minimal levels of cattle predation. Short of killing wolves that prey on cattle, project managers should do everything possible to protect livestock, including relocation, stun guns and other aversion tactics. Ranchers who lose cattle to wolves should be reimbursed with as little red tape as possible.

On the other hand, state officials who oppose the federal project need to lower the volume on the fear-mongering. It’s bad enough that wolves stir up outsized passions among the unschooled; those in leadership positions have a duty to ground the discussion in reality.

We’d add that more public education is essential. The expansion of the wolf release zone to most of Arizona and New Mexico between I-40 and I-10 has the potential to draw millions more people into the reintroduction debate. They deserve to be heard, but democracy doesn’t work if their voices are ill-informed.

Speaking only for those likely to be reading this in greater Flagstaff and Coconino County, here are some questions for consideration:

— How many wolves are likely to migrate north and west from release sites in Navajo County into Coconino?

—What is likely to be their main source of food and where in the county will they get it?

—How will wolves affect game animals, such as elk and deer, and where?

—How likely are humans to encounter them on roadways? Forest trails? Ranches? Subdivisions? Which locations are most likely and what should people do if this occurs?

—What is the threat to pets from wolves? To children?

The list above is only a start. But if Fish and Wildlife officials intend to release a new top predator into the ecosystem, everyone is entitled to know what to expect under a variety of conditions and circumstances. We’re waiting for details of that education plan from USF&WS.

This Editorial was published in the Arizona Daily Sun.


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Please help Mexican wolves with a letter to the editor!

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 for writing your letter 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 ARIZONA DAILY SUN HERE.

Letter to the Editor Talking Points and Tips
  • With just 97 Mexican gray wolves remain in the wild today in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico, this unique sub-species is teetering on the brink of a second extinction.
  • Geneticists have warned for years that the wild population needs greater diversity, but the US Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to release new wolves into the wild to improve the wolves’ genetic health.
  • For over 3 decades, captive breeding programs in the U.S. and Mexico have worked to maximize genetic diversity so that captive wolves could be released to increase the wild population’s genetic health. But USFWS has released very few of these wolves.  The wild population of Mexican gray wolves remains critically endangered and in need of additional populations, new releases to improve the population’s genetics, and a scientifically valid recovery plan.
  • Almost 18 years after the first Mexican wolves were reintroduced, there are only 97 wolves in the wild. More wolves are needed to stop inbreeding that researchers suggest may be lowering litter sizes and depressing pup-survival rates.
  • The window is closing on fixing the genetic issue, and one of the easiest steps the US Fish and Wildlife Service can take is to release more wolves from captivity, and do it now.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to do more – and do it fast – to save the lobo from extinction. In order for Mexican gray wolves to recover fully, they need more wolf releases, a science-based recovery plan and more wolf populations in suitable habitats.
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service should 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 andpreserve 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.
  • Enough is enough. The Service needs to assert its authority and recover the Mexican gray wolf.
  • Mexican gray wolves are unique native animals. They are the rarest, most genetically distinct subspecies of gray wolf in North America and the most endangered wolf in the world.
  • Polling shows that the majority of voters support the Mexican wolf reintroduction.
  • The likelihood of a person being hurt by a wolf is almost non-existent. In rural areas, people are far more likely to be harmed by things accepted as part of daily life, such as domestic dogs, livestock, or off-road vehicles. Mexican wolves are small, weighing 50-85 pounds, and tend to avoid people.
  • 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.
Letter Writing Tips

Make sure you:
  • Thank the paper for publishing this article and make sure to reference it 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 EDITOR OF THE ARIZONA DAILY SUN HERE.
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Don't stop now - Do MORE for Mexican wolves

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Learn More ...

Obstructionist policies that ignore scientific facts have been interfering with Mexican wolf recovery for many years.  Here are some past articles that highlight some of the history of the struggle to support a recovery plan based on science and not politics.