By Susan Montoya Bryan / The Associated Press
A month after voting to oppose any new releases of Mexican gray wolves, officials with the Arizona Game and Fish Department have amended their policy and reaffirmed their support for conserving the endangered animal.
The troubled effort to reintroduce wolves in Arizona and New Mexico became more clouded in December when the Arizona game commission voted not to support any releases until the federal government revamped its decades-old recovery plan for the species.
Critics voiced concerns, saying it could be another year before a draft of the new plan is released.
Lynda Lambert, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said Wednesday that the commission realized they needed to address questions over releases in the short term.
“By no means were they trying to decrease the population or discourage the program,” she said. “It was something they had not considered.”
With the new amendment, the replacement of lost wolves will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
In the case of an illegal shooting or other unlawful act in which a wolf is killed, the Arizona game director will have the authority to approve a wolf release. In all other cases, any releases to replace lost wolves would have to go through the game commission.
The commission said in a statement that it will continue to support the wolf program financially and with infrastructure support. The statement came after the commission’s regular meeting Friday.
The federal government started its reintroduction effort along the New Mexico-Arizona border in 1998 with the release of 11 wolves. Biologists had hoped to have more than 100 wolves in the wild by 2006, but the numbers continue to hover around 50.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is working on its annual wolf count. There’s some hope for improvement given the number of pups that were spotted with some of the packs last summer.
In the last five years, there have been more than a dozen transfers of wolves around the reintroduction area, which spans millions of forested acres in Arizona and New Mexico. But only once during that time — in 2008 — have wildlife managers released a new wolf as part of the program.
Under the program’s rules, initial releases can only happen in Arizona.
Eva Sargent with the group Defenders of Wildlife said the softening of Arizona’s no-release policy is good news for the program.
“With only about 50 wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico combined, more lobos need to be released or the population will likely spiral toward extinction,” she said. “¦
To read the full article published in the Albuquerque Journal, click here. Articles on the same topic were recently published by the Arizona Daily Star, and the AZ Republic.
PLEASE SUBMIT LETTERS TO THE EDITOR to the Albuquerque Journal, the Arizona Republic and the Arizona Daily Star, thanking them for these articles and promoting more releases of Mexican wolves into the wild.
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 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and AZ Game and Fish. Tips for writing your letter are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience.
The many letters criticizing the AZ Game and Fish Commission’s original decision to oppose new releases helped to bring about this important change in policy, so essential to recovering the struggling wild population of Mexican gray wolves. Please help keep the momentum going!
Below are a few suggestions for ensuring your message gets through clearly-your letter will be most effective if you focus on a few key points, so don’t try to use all of these. If you need additional help or want someone to review your letter before you send it, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org:
Start by thanking paper for their coverage of this important issue-this makes your letter immediately relevant and increases its chances of being published.
Stress that only about 50 Mexican gray wolves remain in the wild, making them the most endangered mammal in North America and the most endangered wolf in the world.
Tell the Arizona Game and Fish Commission that this is an improvement over their December decision to oppose all new releases and they should give full support to all proposed releases into Arizona.
Encourage the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to use all the means available to them to expedite releases of captive wolves into the wild.
Convey how important new releases of wolves into the wild are to increase the population’s numbers and genetic health-new releases are essential to pull the wild population away from the brink of extinction.
Explain that there are wolves in captivity ready to be released and wolves in the wild that do not have mates; these wolves can’t wait two or more years for the new Recovery Plan to be completed.
Talk about your personal connection to wolves and why the issue is important to you. If you’re a grandmother wanting your grandchildren to have the opportunity to hear wolves in the wild, or a hunter who recognizes that wolves make game herds healthier, or a businessperson who knows that wolves have brought millions in ecotourism dollars to Yellowstone, say so.
Reiterate the ecological benefits of wolves to entire ecosystems and all wildlife. Top predators, such as Mexican gray wolves, are vital to keeping wildlands healthy and full of life. 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.
Keep your letter brief, between 150-200 words.
Provide your name, address, occupation, and phone number; your full address, occupation, and phone number will not be published, but they are required in order to have your letter published.
Thanks you for all you do-your actions make a big difference for these rare and wonderful wolves!