By Brandon Loomis
The Arizona Game and Fish Commission on Wednesday voted to back an effort by Western lawmakers to remove gray wolves from the endangered-species list.
The commission unanimously supported a letter by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to drop federal protections for wolves nationwide.
That would include Mexican gray wolves, which have struggled to find a foothold in the Southwest since reintroduction in 1998, though the commission reasserted its support for at least 100 “wolves on the ground.”
That’s a number that wolf supporters find unacceptable, and they don’t trust the state to nurse the animals to a fully recovered population.
But Hatch and Lummis, in their March 15 letter to Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, said that wolves are not endangered and that states don’t need federal meddling on the predators’ behalf.
“Unmanaged wolves are devastating to livestock and indigenous wildlife,” they wrote. “Currently, state wildlife officials have their hands tied any time wolves are involved.”
Commission Chairman Jack Husted said wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains — reintroduced in the 1990s, just like Arizona’s — have thrived to the point that they are damaging prey populations such as elk. Idaho, Wyoming and Montana have hosted more than 1,000 wolves between them for years. “We’ve time and again voiced our support for wild wolves on the ground (in Arizona),” Husted said, “but not in unlimited numbers.”
When federal officials released Mexican gray wolves from captive breeding programs into the mountains of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico, they discussed an initial goal of 100 animals.
They were unsure how many might actually be needed to support a perpetual population and left that prescription to be determined in a recovery plan that still has not been completed.
Although federal biologists this year reported a record number of wild Southwestern wolves — 75, split about evenly between the two states — wolf proponents say it’s nowhere near a safe number. They’re awaiting the recovery plan, which could designate new areas for reintroduction, such as the forests around the Grand Canyon.
Gray wolves’ legal status is complicated. Alaska’s plentiful packs have long been state-managed. Wolves brought from Canada to the northern Rockies, like those rebounding naturally in the upper Great Lakes states, have thrived to the point that federal officials have already dropped them from the endangered list.
But any that take up residence outside their official recovery zones — in eastern Utah, for instance — would enjoy full federal protection.
The Southwest’s wolves are physically the smallest North American subspecies and numerically the smallest population, and they remain legally protected from such actions as sport hunting.
Hatch and Lummis seek a blanket removal of federal oversight.
Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter, said the commission would have more credibility in backing that move if the state had ever seriously supported wolf recovery.
“There’s no demonstration of commitment,” she said. Seventy-five animals don’t add up to success, she added. “Common sense tells you these are endangered animals.”
Defenders of Wildlife also condemned the commission’s vote, saying it defies polls that have shown that most Arizonans support wolf recovery.
This article was published in the Arizona Republic.
Please write a letter to the editor today, thanking the paper for this article and opposing AZ Game and Fish Commission’s irresponsible position of support for delisting gray wolves nationally.
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.
Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
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 publishing this article. This makes your letter immediately relevant and increases its chances of being published.
Convey your outrage that once again the AZ Game and Fish Commission is attempting the undermine the survival of the Southwest’s native Mexican gray wolf. The Commission has a public trust responsibility to protect all of Arizona’s wildlife, especially endangered animals like the lobo. The Commissioners have betrayed that trust by advocating the removal of endangered species protections for wolves in all of the lower 48 states. It’s time they stopped trying to hinder the wolves’ recovery.
Remind readers that, at last count, just 75 Mexican gray wolves, including three breeding pairs, survived in the wild. These native wolves are critically endangered. New releases and additional populations of these wolves are desperately needed for them to thrive. Endangered species protections are critical to their survival. But AZ Game and Fish has consistently tried to undermine the wolves and will continue to do so if lobos become subject to state management.
Tell readers why you support wolves and stress that the majority of Arizona residents support wolves and understand their importance. Polling done by Research and Polling, Inc. found 77 percent of Arizona respondents support the reintroduction of Mexican gray wolves. The poll also showed strong majority support for giving wolves greater protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Commission’s decision is an affront to the majority of Arizonans who value wolves and welcome the economic and ecosystem benefits they bring.
Convey how urgent it is for people to contact their elected officials in congress now to urge them to oppose national delisting of wolves. As the majority, we can make our voices heard above the commission if we reach out to our members of congress. Arizona letters can specifically thank Representatives Grijalva, Sinema, and Barber for their opposition to national delisting; they can also urge, by name, the other AZ Senators and Representatives who have not yet done so to step forward for wolves. Click here for information about members of Congress.
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.
Describe the ecological benefits of wolves to entire ecosystems and all wildlife. 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. Science has repeatedly demonstrated that wolves are keystone carnivores who help to keep wildlife like elk and deer healthy and bring balance to the lands they inhabit.
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.
You can submit your letter here.
Thank you for taking action for these important animals!
Photo of Mexican gray wolf (Spring Rains) courtesy of Sophie Kastner