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Op-Ed: Valdez: Biggest danger? Wolf or politician?

The Arizona Republic – April 26, 2016

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In the 40 years since Mexican gray wolves were listed under the Endangered Species Act, their biggest threat has been politics.

With 97 wolves in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico, environmentalists say bad management shaped by special interests continues to hinder their recovery in the wild. The wild wolf population is down from 110 last year.

“We need more releases,” says Eva Lee Sargent of Defenders of Wildlife.

But both Arizona and New Mexico have opposed new releases of wolves, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has largely acquiesced to the whining of public land ranchers and hunters who pull the strings in those states.

Genetic diversity at risk

The wolves in the wild represent only a fraction of the genetic diversity present in 240 wolves being held in captivity, Sargent says.

Yet the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan for 2016 is to release two adult wolves from the captive population and try to introduce up to six captive-bred puppies into family groups in the wild.

Two adults? Out of 240? When the wolves in captivity could boost genetic diversity in the wild?

That’s wildlife mismanagement.

According to a press release from Defenders of Wildlife: “There are clear, concrete repercussions to the dwindling genetic diversity in the wild wolves, including smaller litters and lower pup survival.”

Arizona and New Mexico state wildlife agencies are captive to ranchers and hunters, who see wolves as a threat. When Fish and Wildlife announced it planned to release wolves over New Mexico's objections, New Mexico sued.

Federal agency is too timid

For the most part, the federal government has failed to do its duty under the Endangered Species Act.

The settlement of a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice in 2014 to force Fish and Wildlife Service to complete a long-overdue recovery plan for the Mexican wolf could result in a recovery plan that calls for more releases and an expanded range for the wolves, said Robinson.

During the Obama administration, only four wolves were released, says Sargent. Three of them are dead and one was recaptured.

According to Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, Fish and Wildlife issued an order to trap another male wolf in New Mexico and return him to captivity. His sin? Killing cattle.

“This alpha wolf, whose mate may be pregnant, should be allowed to stay in the wild and help raise his pups,” says Robinson.

Ranchers who operate on the public land are compensated for cattle lost to wolves, as well as being compensated solely because wolves are present on the public land they lease for their cattle.

They still aren’t satisfied.

Public supports wolves

Ranchers' sense of entitlement – and their sway with friendly politicians and policy makers – is entirely out of proportion with their numbers or their importance in the increasingly urbanized West. Ranchers have made the reintroduction of wolves a continuing battle despite strong public support for wolves.

But wild lands and wild creatures are increasingly important to an urbanizing state like Arizona.

Our national environmental laws and the will of the people are being thwarted by short-sighted, special interest politics. That's just wrong.


This Op-Ed was published in The Arizona Republic.

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Please help endangered Mexican gray wolves with a letter to the editor today!


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. Don't try to include all of the points below. Your letter will be effective if you keep it brief and focus on a few key points.

Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
  • It has now been 40 years since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first listed the Mexican gray wolf, or "lobo," under the Endangered Species Act.
  • At last official count, only 97 Mexican gray wolves were found in the wild, making them one of the most endangered wolves in the world. The wild population declined 12% since last year’s count. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan to release only one family in 2016 is sadly inadequate to the need to increase the numbers and genetic health of endangered lobos in the wild.
  • The wild population of Mexican wolves is at tremendous risk due to its small size and genetics. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan to release only one new family from the hundreds of wolves in captive breeding programs is entirely inadequate to the need for genetic rescue. At least five new families should be released this year.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is allowing politics to override science based recommendations for wolf recovery. Right now, the Service has a plan to trap and remove a father wolf over livestock as soon as his mate has pups, without any requirement for livestock owners to actively protect their livestock from depredations.
  • Since the lobo reintroduction program began in the late 1990s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has never released enough wolves from captivity, not only impeding a steady increase in the lobos’ numbers but also triggering a continual loss of genetic diversity in the wild lobo population over the past 18 years.
  • 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.
  • During the entire Obama administration (2009 to present), only four new wolves have been released from captivity. Of these, three are dead and one has been returned to captivity. The longer the wild population goes without new releases, the worse the problems will become, requiring even more wolf releases in the future.
  • No matter how you measure it, there are clear, concrete repercussions to the dwindling genetic diversity in the wild. We are seeing smaller litters, lower pup survival and the population is less able to adapt over time to changing conditions.
  • Wolf releases from captivity are necessary to improve the all-around health of the wild Mexican gray wolf population, in terms of both their genetics and their numbers.
  • Cross-fostering of pups is a risky and complex experimental technique. Opportunities for doing this successfully are extremely rare. At best, the Fish and Wildlife Service may be able to get a few new pups into wild packs. At worst, pups introduced into packs they were not born into may be killed or abandoned. A scientific genetic rescue plan will involve releasing many more adult wolves, not just cross-fostering.
  • Time is running out for the Mexican gray wolf. The Service must immediately release multiple families of wolves from captivity to beat the clock of lobo extinction.
  • The captive population still has genes not represented in the wild population. Therefore, releases from this population would help increase the genetic diversity in the wild population.

Make sure you:
  • Thank the paper for publishing the editorial.
  • 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 from the article, 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, 150 words or less.
  • 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 to The Arizona Republic here.

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Take action to keep wolf father from being trapped and removed by the Government here.


Photo credit:  Amber Legras