When it comes to endangered Mexican gray wolves and restoring them to their historical range, be careful what you wish for.
On the one hand, Arizona Game and Fish and a coalition of ranching and sport-hunting groups wanted to expand the current recovery zone in the White Mountains not to the west or north but south to the Mexican border, where the subspecies originated and presumably would disperse.
On the other, several conservation groups urged federal wildlife managers to allow the wolves to roam as far north as the Grand Canyon and beyond, a range that once supported wolves.
So the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service split the difference in a way that makes neither group happy. Under the final plan released late last month, the wolves will get a dramatically expanded recovery range from I-40 south to the Mexican border across most of Arizona and New Mexico.
For the Game and Fish coalition, that is much too large a territory. Wolves, they say, don’t mix with cows and suburbs, and sportsmen aren’t too fond of competing with them for elk and deer trophies, either.
For the wolf advocates, it is far too little. The packs need much bigger tracts of true wilderness, and the North Rim is about as close to that as it gets in Arizona.
From the standpoint of an observer in Flagstaff, the plan is an obvious compromise and thus bound to draw complaints from both sides. It may be a interim range that will be expanded as the packs grow. Or it may be a pilot range that will be pulled back to the White Mountains if too many conflicts between wolves and people arise.
The expansion of a range for a predator that is at or near the top of the food chain does raise some questions that we don’t think Fish and Wildlife has answered yet.
The first is how will wildlife managers handle wolfpacks that take up residence much closer to settled communities than they are now on remote, federal forest lands?
Right now, bears that become acclimated to humans by feeding on garbage are sometimes put down by Game and Fish rather than relocated. Will that be the treatment for wolves found roaming in neighborhoods, and does this expansion actually put them more in harm’s way than they are now?
Also, the new plan would allow a rancher to kill wolves attacking his livestock. Ranchers are currently compensated for lost livestock at a rate of 100 percent for a confirmed kill and 50 percent for a suspected kill. Is the new plan setting up the wolves for a “shoot first, ask questions later” approach that won’t allow enough time for them to learn to steer well clear of livestock?
Another concern is what will happen when the wolves inevitably cross I-40, as several have already done in the past decade — one got as far north as Doney Park before being struck and killed on North Highway 89. Will they be relocated to the Mexican border or simply shuttled back to a spot in the center of the zone and allowed to follow their old path north again?
The habitat above the rim in Coconino County is just as attractive north of the interstate as south, and forcing the wolves to bunch up around Munds Park, Kachina Village or the cattle ranches atop Anderson Mesa seems like an invitation to confrontation.
Even Fish and Wildlife concedes that there isn’t enough suitable range south of I-40 to support the number of wolves — one estimate is close to 1,000 — needed to make it on their own. This is an interim plan, say federal biologists, but without a clear set of benchmarks or firm dates for expansion north.
We’re no experts, but if those who are say the North Kaibab ultimately is the best habitat in the state for a self-sustaining wolf population, why not introduce them there now? Expanding the current range to the west and east might ultimately work for the wolves, but if north of the Grand Canyon is where they belong in today’s Arizona, we say why not give it a try right now?
Our View: The interim plan to expand the packs first into Maricopa, Yavapai and Coconino counties is an invitation to needless confrontation with humans and vehicles
This editorial was published by the AZ Daily Sun.
With fewer than 90 Mexican gray wolves in the wild, US Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to make changes that could push them closer to extinction or finally help them thrive. The decision will be made in the next few months and they need to hear from you!
Submit a letter to the editor responding to this article and influence decision-makers and thousands of your fellow citizens. Tips and talking points 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.
- Start by thanking the paper for this article.
- US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) should move forward with allowing new wolves to be released throughout the larger area proposed.The Mexican gray wolf is the most endangered mammal in the U.S. with only about 83 in the wild. Additional wolves must be released into the wild now to increase the genetic health of the species. Numerous wolves are in captive breeding facilities around the country, prepared for, and awaiting, release.
- USFWS should not allow more killing of critically endangered wolves. The draft proposal will push Mexican gray wolves towards extinction by allowing many more of them to be killed under all kinds of justifications. With fewer than 90 in the wild, every wolf is important. These native lobos need more protections, not less.
- Wolves once lived throughout Arizona and New Mexico and played a critical role in keeping the balance of nature in place. We need to restore this important animal that has been missing for too long. People who care about wolves have an important opportunity to speak out for their recovery through September 23, 2014. Comments can be submitted electronically here: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FWS-R2-ES-2013-0056-6056. More information can be found at mexicanwolves.org.
- Wolves need freedom from boundaries. Given room to roam, the wolves will establish themselves in suitable areas with adequate game. They will naturally avoid places with high densities of humans and low prey availability. USFWS must change the rules that do not allow wolves to establish new packs and populations in additional areas that are essential to their recovery.
- Additional populations of Mexican wolves north of I-40 are necessary to their recovery and genetic health, as is the ability for wolves to move between populations. Capturing and moving wolves because they roam beyond an artificial boundary is always a risky business that can result in death or trauma to the wolf.
- The USFWS should designate Mexican gray wolves as essential. By labeling all of the wild wolves as “nonessential” the USFWS ignores science and the reality of 16 years of experience with reintroducing wolves. The 83 wolves in the wild have up to 5 generations of experience in establishing packs and raising pups and are over 22% of all of the Mexican wolves in the world.The fifth generation wild lobos are not expendable and are essential to recovering this unique subspecies of wolf.
- The USFWS needs to quit stalling and complete a comprehensive recovery plan. USFWS admits that their 1982 recovery plan is not scientifically sound and does not meet current legal requirements — yet in its proposed rule USFWS continues to ignore the best available science and the recommendations of its own science recovery planning subgroup.
Make sure you:
- Thank the paper for publishing the article.
- Do not repeat any negative messages from the article. 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 150-300 words.
- Make your letter personal. Don’t be afraid to use humor or personal stories. 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 here.
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