By Simone Butler
Concern for the endangered Mexican gray wolf population is rising within animal conservation communities due to new Arizona legislation that could adversely affect the population of one of the more endangered subspecies in the world.
Commonly referred to as “el lobo,” the Mexican gray wolf was widely hunted between 1950 and 1970, causing instability in the population. In 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began a conscious effort to revive the declining species by releasing 11 captive wolves back into the wilds of Arizona, with a goal of restoring a minimum of 100 wolves to the wild by 2006. At the end of 2013, the USFWS estimated the known number of wolves in the Southwest to be at least 83, and due to mating habits and sprawl, the population has grown at a slow but steady pace. This growth needs to continue in order to protect the wolves from extinction.
The entire worldwide Mexican gray wolf population is less than 350, with most of those wolves being held in captivity. There were plans to release two more wolves this year to replace wolves that were illegally shot and killed, but the release has been postponed, pending the outcome of proposed state legislation that has been approved by the Senate and is now awaiting votes in the House of Representatives. SB 1211, SB 1212 and SCR 1006 will broaden the justified means people can take against problem Mexican gray wolves.
The bills have the potential to thwart the recovery of the Mexican gray wolf population, and ultimately hasten the eradication of the subspecies in the Southwest.
SB 1211 gives full permission for Arizona Department of Agriculture employees and livestock owners to kill a wolf if the animal is documented or caught in the act of killing livestock. The wolves can also be slain if they engage with guard dogs, and if any person feels they need to protect themselves from the wolves (self-defense) under any circumstances.
SB 1212 states that the wild wolf population in Arizona is “nonessential,” and that the “experimental population is not essential for the continued existence of the species.”
SCR 1066 proposes the removal of the Mexican gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act. The resolution also suggests finding a way to reestablish the wolf population that doesn’t cause adverse effects on private landowners and land users. The resolution states that the wilderness repopulation efforts have hindered Arizona’s local and regional economies.
Like SB 1211, SCR 1066 also backs private landowners and other individuals who experience an encounter, granting permission to kill Mexican gray wolves that show any form of hostility toward livestock, humans or pets on private land.
Northern Arizona University’s Dr. Paul Beier, an expert in wildlife ecology and conservation biology, believes that “we [should] want to keep [endangered species] around because we are responsible for them”¦regardless if they are benefiting [or hindering] us. We [as humans] have a responsibility,” and if we are to live with our environment, cohabitation and protection of species and subspecies like the Mexican gray wolf are essential.
In other locations, such as Yellowstone, Beier stated that reintroducing the wolves into the wild was beneficial, aiding in a trickle-down effect that has helped stabilize that environment. “[Wolves have had] ecological benefits in controlling elk and deer populations. This, in turn, allowed major recovery of willows, cottonwoods, and aspen, and the birds and mammals, like beavers, that depend on these trees.” Beier believes that the Mexican gray wolves could potentially have a similar effect in Southwestern ecosystems.
Anyone interested in combatting these bills can call, write letters and send emails to their Arizona legislators, expressing their concerns. With enough public outcry, there is a chance the wolves will remain protected.
“There are also advocacy groups, and you can talk to them to more effectively influence what happens,” Beier suggests. “We all benefit from wolves. As a society, we can find ways to reduce the negative impact of wolves, and to share the costs that now fall on a few ranchers.”
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