Over 60 business leaders have urged the federal government to release endangered Mexican gray wolves into the Grand Canyon region, expanding the predator's habitat beyond eastern Arizona.
The business leaders include owners, managers and independent contractors, among others, from the tourism and service industries in northern Arizona and southern Utah.
Gray wolves in the region would benefit the tourism industry and the ecosystem, the business leaders wrote, citing such benefits associated with gray wolf recovery near Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Montana.
Researchers at the University of Montana have estimated wolf tourism brings $35.5 million a year to the Yellowstone region.
And gray wolf reintroduction at the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in Arizona and New Mexico benefits the economy by an estimated $3.2 to 3.8 million a year, according researchers at Defenders of Wildlife and State University of New York.
Wolves also strengthened Yellowstone's ecosystem, where they preyed on older elk and animals with infirmities, according to researchers at Defenders of Wildlife.
The business leaders urged the wildlife service "to resist the efforts of narrow political interests that undermine (the gray wolf's) recovery."
Governors' letter sets boundary
The agency's recovery plan is in line with requests outlined in a 2015 letter by governors from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. The letter, to the Department of Interior and the wildlife service, urged the government to restrict recovery zones below I-40.
The governors claimed available science indicates the wolves' historical range did not extend north of I-40.
To establish the Mexican grey wolf north of I-40, outside of their historical range, would be unlawful, said Jim deVos, assistant director for wildlife management at the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
He echoed the governors' letter, which claimed the Endangered Species Act does not "specifically authorize" re-establishing a species outside its historical range.
DeVos cited two studies, one in 1996 and another in 2017, that do not include habitat above I-40 in the Mexican gray wolf's historical range.
A recovery team commissioned by the wildlife service concluded differently in a 2012 recovery plan, which the agency did not distribute for review.
Researchers have described the wolf's historical range in multiple ways, according to the recovery team. But it determined the historical range included the Grand Canyon region as one of only three core areas of suitable habitat.
The Mexican gray wolf has historically migrated hundreds of miles to find prey, said Emily Renn, executive director of the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project, an advocacy group.
"It's really hard to define a hard line boundary on an animal that could travel such great distances," she said.
Two different goals
The 2012 plan would have waited to delist the wolves from the endangered-species list until the number rose to three populations of 750 for eight years. The agency's current recovery plan sets the delisting threshold at two populations — 320 wolves in the U.S. and 170 in Mexico — for eight years.
Three populations of wolves would ultimately promote diversity and more resiliency within the species to such threats as disease and inbreeding, Renn said.
Mexican gray wolves could breed with northern gray wolves if released north of I-40, which would threaten the wolves' recovery, deVos said. The northern gray wolf's genes are more diverse and could dominate that of the Mexican gray wolf, he said.
Renn does not want to see Mexican gray wolves lose their unique characteristics. But they are territorial and could prevent the expansion of northern gray wolves if released in the Grand Canyon region, she said, adding that some cross-breeding would be natural.
The Mexican gray wolf is already recovering successfully without establishing a population north of I-40, deVos said. And while its full recovery requires "social tolerance," such as methods ranchers use to coexist with wolves, he anticipates more years of success to come.
The Mexican gray wolf population is currently 113, Renn said. "To call that successful is a stretch. ... We are a long way from recovery."
Show your support for Mexican wolves with a
Letter of THANKS to the Editor today!
If you are a business owner be sure to include your business name in your letter.
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.
Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
• The Fish and Wildlife Service is required, by law, to incorporate the best available science into its Mexican gray wolf recovery plan. Unfortunately, they have scrapped this duty in order to attain the best political deal they could find. They have chosen to make hostile state agencies happy rather than uphold their duty to consider the best available science. The previous recovery planning science team clearly identified what these wolves need, yet those findings are being ignored.
• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to hand the management of the Mexican gray wolf recovery program to the states who have done everything in their power to sabotage the species’ recovery. Arizona game and fish ran the program for six years previously, and in that time they managed to reduce the number of wolves in the wild. The serious genetic problems the wild population is in is a direct result of the mismanagement by Arizona. If this plan is not dramatically changed, it will very likely drive the lobo to extinction.
• The Mexican gray wolf draft recovery plan includes reckless delisting criteria for the critically endangered wolf. The plan allows for delisting the wolf after twenty-two wolves released from captivity reach reproductive age. But just reaching reproductive age does not ensure their genes will be contributed to the wild population. We have seen that poaching is a major threat to individual wild wolves and if these wolves are killed before they breed, the species will still be removed from the endangered species list.
• Mexican gray wolves will need connectivity between wild populations in order to recover. Connectivity would be easy were they allowed to establish in the two additional suitable habitats in the U.S., the Grand Canyon area and the Southern Rockies. Instead, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to restrict the wolves to south of Interstate 40 and to establish a second population in Mexico. There is a barrier along large sections of the international border, talk of extending that barrier to an impenetrable wall, and the last wolf who crossed that border was removed from the wild.
• The federal agency charged with recovery of the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf has decided to put the onus of recovery on Mexico, despite the fact that this could wipe the species out. Mexico does not have nearly as much public land for the wolf, they have very little enforcement to deal with poaching, and as species shift north in response to climate change Mexican habitat will become even less suitable for wolves.
Make sure you:
• Thank the paper for publishing the article
• 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, under 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.
Read the letter and the list of businesses that want wolves in the Grand Canyon Region HERE.