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Editorial: Our View: Beware of congressmen in pro-wolf clothing

Arizona Republic – August 17, 2016 – Speak for Wolves

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Editorial: Don't buy Arizona politicians' attempts to "help" Mexican gray wolves. They are anything but helpful.

Beware of politicians in wolves’ clothing.

Two congressional efforts to seize control of the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program may pretend to be wolf-friendly. They aren’t.

The first is being pushed by Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar and New Mexico Republican Rep. Steve Pearce. Both previously have sought to kick the Mexican gray wolf off the endangered-species list.

Now, they are behind an amendment to the Interior Department appropriations bill that would defund the federal wolf-recovery effort. Pearce says states could do a better job.

Wolves are worse off? Not true

The federal reintroduction effort began in the late 1990s and has included state involvement. It raised the population of Mexican gray wolves in the wild from zero to 97 at last count.

Gosar says the endangered species of wolf “is no better off today than it was 20 years ago,” according to a story by The Arizona Republic’s Brandon Loomis.

Not true. The species is 97 times better off. And that’s because of a federally run effort that is guided by the federal Endangered Species Act, which established species diversity as a national value.

Gosar also said, “The wolf is going to die unless something changes.” In his view, that needed change is state control.

The history of the Mexican gray wolf recovery effort says just the opposite.

Opposition continues from special interests

Built from a population of captive-bred wolves, Mexican gray wolves now in the wild represent a success story. They have adapted well, reproduced and learned to hunt their natural prey.

A few wolves have also preyed on the cattle that graze the public land in Arizona and New Mexico where wolves have been reintroduced. Because of that, wolves were killed and captured under management practices that favored public-land ranchers.

That happened despite programs that reimburse ranchers for any cattle taken by wolves.

Meanwhile, some hunters see the wolves as competition because the lobos' natural prey consists of deer and elk, species humans like to pursue for sport.

The opposition to wolves continues to come from these special interests, which are used to getting their own way in state legislatures and state game agencies.

Ranchers and hunters have legitimate concerns, but those concerns do not outweigh the larger national goals outlined in the Endangered Species Act.

What happened when states got their way

Yet, in the U.S. Senate, Arizona’s Republican Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain are pushing an effort that would give states greater influence in decision making about wolf recovery and cap the number of wolves allowed in the wild.

This, too, is more about empowering those who oppose wolves than helping recovery.

Flake told The Republic’s Loomis that the goal of recovery should be a plan that reflects the will of the states, and cannot be reversed by a federal judge.

This is a step backward.

States were given a significant role in management decisions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2003. The resulting practices, largely shaped to satisfy ranchers, led to so many wolves being killed or removed that environmentalists sued.

Only after environmentalists won a court settlement did wolf numbers begin to climb, reaching 110 by 2014. Last winter, illegal shootings and disappearances reduced the population.

Clearly, wolves need more protection, not less. They need federal protection that is guided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reflect the national values outlined in the Endangered Species Act.

Those values go beyond a few interest groups in one or two states. This is about our nation’s shared natural heritage.

Mexican gray wolves are part of that shared natural heritage, and efforts to restore them to the wild represent a clearly articulated national value.

This Editorial was published in the Arizona Republic.

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Show your support for Mexican wolves with 
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

  • The science is clear that the Mexican gray wolf is far from recovered and must remain protected under the Endangered Species Act – with such low numbers, losing Endangered Species Act protections would lead to extinction of the wild lobo.
  • Bills or riders aimed at stripping endangered wolves of federal protections put more than wolves in peril - they threaten all wildlife and the Endangered Species Act itself.
  • The Gosar/Pearce Amendment is a Mexican wolf extermination bill. If passed, neither Arizona nor New Mexico will provide wolves any real protection.
  • 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 livestock industry has a responsibility to share public lands with wolves and other wildlife. Wolves are responsible for less than 1% of livestock losses and there are many tried and true methods to avoid conflicts between livestock and wolves. Most wolves stay out of trouble.
  • Since the Mexican wolf reintroduction began, there has always been funding and programs available, via Defenders of Wildlife, the states, or the federal government, to help ranchers cover losses or avoid problems.  Many ranchers have learned to ranch in the presence of wolves, and see them as just another part of working on the land.
  • Scientists 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.
The states of Arizona and New Mexico are hostile to Mexican wolf recovery and cannot be trusted with the future of these highly endangered animals. 
  • During the period from 2003 to 2009, when the Mexican wolf reintroduction program was controlled by a commission led by Arizona Game and Fish, the wild population declined from 55 wolves to only 42 wolves and 2 breeding pairs in the wild. It was only after the US Fish and Wildlife Service resumed control of the program that the population numbers began to rise.
  • Under AZ Game and Fish Department’s management, many individual wolves and even whole families of wolves were routinely killed and removed over livestock conflicts, with no regard for their genetic value, under standard operating procedure 13. Arizona Game and Fish has been very clear that it will bring back policies like these and further loosen restrictions on killing endangered wolves.
The recovery of the lobo has strong public support in Arizona and New Mexico and those who represent us in Congress should vigorously oppose legislation that removes endangered species protections of Mexican wolves.
  • Public polling continues to show overwhelming support for wolf recovery in Arizona and New Mexico.
  • In a 2008 poll of registered voters, 77 % of Arizonans and 69% of New Mexicanssupported “the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf into these public lands in Arizona and New Mexico.”
  • In a 2013 poll of registered voters, 87% of both Arizonans and New Mexicans agreed that “wolves are a vital part of America’s wilderness and natural heritage.”  83% of Arizonans and 80% of New Mexicans agreed that “the US Fish and Wildlife Service should make every effort to help wolves recover and prevent extinction.”
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, between 150-200 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.”
  • Urge your fellow citizens to urge their representatives in Congress to oppose this bill.
  • 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.