ERIC BETZ Sun Staff Reporter
In an effort to reduce conflict between wolves and ranchers, the federal government says it will pay ranchers for the inconvenience of putting predators in their vicinity.
Starting this year, payments will be offered to ranchers running livestock in close proximity to the 83 Mexican gray wolves that now call Arizona and New Mexico home.
Payments are already offered to ranchers who lose livestock to wolves. However, Fish and Wildlife recorded just 19 confirmed livestock deaths from Mexican gray wolves in 2012, the last year officials had records available.
Despite that low number, federal officials say they acknowledge that the financial toll goes beyond just dead cows.
Ranchers must take steps to discourage wolves and it’s not always possible to confirm what happened to an animal if it simply disappears. Bears, mountain lions and dogs will also kill cattle.
And sometimes, the cows will even lose weight just from being moved around to avoid the predators, making them less valuable.
Sherry Barrett oversees the Mexican gray wolf recovery program in Arizona and New Mexico. She says that, in contrast to the federal government’s reintroduction of the northern gray wolves, these animals are not being released into a national park.
“The difference between us and the northern Rocky Mountains is that they were releasing wolves in Yellowstone where there’s no grazing,” Barrett said. “But here in the Southwest we have a working landscape and we recognize there is some potential for livestock depredation.”
The Mexican gray wolf had been hunted to extinction in the wild when Fish and Wildlife started releasing it to the Blue Range Wolf Reintroduction Area in the White Mountains of Arizona and New Mexico in 1998. That stretch, near Alpine, is home to rich ranching lands long leased from the U.S. Forest Service. Management practices and illegal killings have plagued the wolf’s recovery. And if the animals leave the vicinity they are brought back or removed from the wild.
When a wolf kills cattle, it can be removed or relocated by game officials. In the past, the ranchers received payouts from Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental group.
Currently, an outside agency determines compensation for killed livestock based on current auction prices and the federal government foots the bill through state agencies. The Coexistence Council website says the typical payout for a calf is about $800 and a cow goes for $1,450.
The new nuisance payment project comes from the Coexistence Council, formed in 2011. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest director created the 11-member council with ranchers, local governments and environmental groups. Their current pot for the nuisance payouts is $40,000.
“Before, we’ve really focused on depredation compensation, but that doesn’t really work well and there are concerns on both sides,” Barrett says, highlighting the difficulty in proving a wolf kill.
Barrett said the nuisance payout amounts are based on points awarded for varying levels of nuisance. A rancher would get a certain number of points if his livestock territory overlapped that of wolves. More points would be given if that overlap affected cattle numbers. If nearby wolves have pups that survive until the end of the year, that’s worth bonus points.
The Coexistence Council then divvies up the total based on the points awarded. Other programs have long provided compensation to ranchers who lose livestock. But the coexistence council has extended its deadline to June 1 because few ranchers have signed up to receive the payouts. Barrett says that the project hasn’t received much media coverage, so the Forest Service is trying to help with outreach to grazing rights holders.
Game and Fish is currently drafting an environmental impact statement — due out this summer — that will address the long-term prospects for Mexican gray wolves. That plan could include expanding wolf territory from Interstate 10 to Interstate 40 in New Mexico and Arizona.
Barrett says that the coexistence plan is likely to expand to new regions as the Mexican gray wolf also moves into new territory.
Ranchers interested in applying for the nuisance payments can visit www.coexistencecouncil.org.
Eric Betz can be reached at 556-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was published in the AZ Daily Sun.
One letter to the editor from you can reach thousands of people and will also likely be read by decision-makers. 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.
- Polling shows 83% of Arizona voters and 80% of New Mexico voters support Mexican wolf recovery. Polls also show overwhelming support — 81% in Arizona and 73% in New Mexico — for restoring wolves in the Grand Canyon region and northern New Mexico, areas of suitable habitat that scientists say are vital for the wolves in order to recover.
- The Mexican gray wolf is the most endangered wolf in the world with only about 83 in the wild. The wild population of Mexican wolves is at tremendous risk due to its small size and genetics.
- The livestock industry has a responsibility to share public lands with wolves and other wildlife. There are many tried and true methods to avoid conflicts between livestock and wolves. Funds are available to help livestock growers implement nonlethal deterrents, better animal husbandry practices, and other innovative tools that minimize conflict.
- Coexistence payments to encourage good management make a lot more sense than killing or removing wolves over livestock.
- 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.
- Wolves generate economic benefits – a University of Montana study found that visitors who come to see wolves in Yellowstone contribute roughly $35.5 million annually to the regional economy.
- 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. 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.
- People who care about wolf recovery and want to help can find more information at mexicanwolves.org.
Make sure you:
- Thank the paper for publishing this article.
- Include something about who you are and why you care: E.g. “I am mother, outdoors person, teacher, business owner, scientific, religious, etc.)
- Keep your letter brief — under 250 words.
- 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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