Wolf News


In the News: Revised rules let Mexican wolves roam expanded territory

Mexican wolves will soon be able to roam a much wider area across Arizona as far north as Interstate 40, and their numbers in the wild will be allowed to reach as high as 325, the federal government announced Monday.

The new rules expand by 10 times the area where the endangered wolves can be released and by four times the area where they can live afterward. It also allows the goal for the wild population to more than triple from its current goal of 100.

But at the same time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced new rules that critics said will expand opportunities to kill wolves.

These provisions establish permit systems and other ways that would allow individuals and state wildlife agencies to kill wolves that kill livestock or other domestic animals, or wolves that have caused “unacceptable impacts” to elk and other wild ungulates such as deer.

Finally, the service reclassified the Mexican wolf as a separate endangered subspecies from its earlier status as a subspecies of the endangered gray wolf.

The service announced these actions as revisions to 1998 rules that triggered the initial reintroduction of Mexican wolves into Eastern Arizona. The new rules come as the result of a settlement the service reached with the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity of a lawsuit seeking to bolster the wolf program.

Wildlife Service Southwest Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle said the new rules will increase wild wolves’ genetic diversity, long a concern of outside scientists and environmentalists. The provisions liberalizing rules for the killing of wolves are aimed at reducing conflicts between wolves, landowners and state agencies, Tuggle said.
Environmentalists mildly praised some new rules and panned others, saying some allow officials to diversify the struggling wolf population but others threaten to prevent wolf recovery.

Overall, the rules overwhelm some useful reforms with “poison pill” provisions that conflict with prevailing science, said Heidi McIntosh, a managing attorney for the group Earthjustice.

The Arizona Cattle Growers Association is unhappy with the changes: “It’s something that was shoved down our throat,” said Patrick Bray, the association’s executive vice president. Referring specifically to new rules allowing the killing of problem wolves, he said state, not federal, officials deserve the final say on when that can happen.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department is generally OK with the new rules, an agency official said.

Jim DeVos, deputy Game and Fish director, called them a “middle ground” compromise.
“Overall it’s a very good approach, a huge contribution for the recovery of the Mexican wolf,” he said.

During a telephone conference with reporters, Tuggle said, “I want to make clear that this effort will be the foundation on which we will construct our wolf recovery plan.”

He was referring to a long-delayed, legally required document that’s supposed to propel the wolf toward ultimate removal from the federal endangered species list.

Tuggle declined to say when the service would release a draft of that plan, but “if I would go out on a limb, I’d say that the recovery plan is in sight of being initiated.”

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Arizona Game and Fish Department have sued and threatened to sue the wildlife service, respectively, to force the recovery plan’s release.

“This rule in my opinion is far stronger than the previous rule, because we’ve had more opportunity to learn about how Mexican wolves behave on the landscape,” he said.

Specifically, the rules:
  • Expand the area for wolf release from a small portion of the Blue Range in Eastern Arizona to an area of 12,507 square miles spanning Central Arizona to western and southwestern New Mexico. Among other forests, it includes all of the Apache and Sitgreaves National Forests in Arizona and the Gila National Forest in New Mexico.
  • Expand the area that wolves can occupy from the 7,212-square-mile Blue Range Recovery Area to three zones covering 153,853 square miles. That vast new area is bounded by I-40 on the north, the Mexican border on the south and the California and Texas borders on the west and east, respectively.
  • Increase the goal for a wild wolf population from 100 to a range of 300 to 325. The number is likely to be increased when a recovery plan is written. The most recent census in 2013 pegged the wild wolf population at 83.

If the population exceeds 325, excess wolves could be taken into captivity or moved to Mexico, Tuggle said. “I would hate to say that we would exercise an option of killing them,” Tuggle said in response to a question. “They are a valuable species.”
  • Clarified that officials of the federal Wildlife Services program — which can kill predators known to be damaging livestock — won’t violate the law if they kill a Mexican wolf “while conducting official duties associated with predator damage management activities” involving other species.
  • Set up a complex, detailed process to allow the Arizona and New Mexico game and fish departments to remove, relocate, transfer to Mexico and legally kill wolves if it’s shown they constitute an “unacceptable impact” to deer or elk. The state agencies must provide detailed data supporting their concerns and their plans, and obtain outside peer reviews.

Environmentalist Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said the provision allows state game agencies to “virtually dictate destruction of wolves for deer and elk,” and hands key decisions about the fate of wolves to “politicians and their cronies.”
The rules as now written don’t give the service discretion over whether to grant permission if they don’t agree with the science presented by the state agencies, he said.

Game and Fish’s DeVos said as he reads the rule, the service has the option to say no.

“I’m not sure I categorize it as anything other than a reasonable step a state could use to petition the service to manage wolves,” he said. “It’s not our intent to kill wolves.

“We believe there is a carrying capacity for wolves on the landscape, and we need the ability to not only protect wolves themselves “¦ but protect the prey base from wolves,” he said.

This article was published in the Tucson Daily Star.

Please write a letter to the editor in support of Mexican gray wolf recovery.

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 and talking points for writing your letter are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience.

You can submit your letter to the Editor of the Daily Star HERE

Talking points specifically about the rule change:

  • New management rules for endangered Mexican wolves have some of the changes needed but other provisions that set a low cap on numbers, allow more killing of these wolves and keep them from habitat above I-40 will prevent recovery.
  • A good change in the new rule is that it expands the area where new wolves can be released into the wild where they belong. 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.
  • Expanding the area where the wolves can live is another positive change, but there should be no boundary at I-40. The boundary set in the new rule will keep Mexican wolves from establishing new populations in the areas north of I-40, which scientists say is necessary to their recovery.
  • There should be no cap on the number of Mexican wolves allowed to live in the wild.Top carnivores like Mexican gray wolves play an important role in ecosystem restoration and will balance themselves with their prey as they did for millennia before humans intervened.
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service should focus on increasing the wild population’s genetic health and moving the wolves towards recovery, rather than promising that lobos can be killed if they increase beyond an arbitrary number.
  • USFWS should not allow more killing of critically endangered wolves. The proposal will push Mexican gray wolves towards extinction by allowing many more of them to be killed under all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with science or recovery, including for eating their natural prey to survive. With so few in the wild, every wolf is important. These native lobos need more protections, not less.
  • Wolves need freedom from boundaries. Given room to roam, the wolves will establish themselves in suitable areas with adequate game. The USFWS proposal does not allow wolves to establish new packs and populations in additional areas that are essential to their recovery.
  • The USFWS should designate Mexican gray wolves as essential. By labeling all of the wild wolves as “nonessential”  in the new rule, the USFWS ignores science and the reality of 16 years of experience with reintroducing wolves.The 83 wolves in the wild have up to four generations of experience in establishing packs and raising pups and are over 22% of all of the Mexican wolves in the world.The fourth 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 it has not moved forward with recovery planning and the new rules ignores recommendations from scientists on the recovery planning team.

General Talking Points about the value of recovering Mexican wolves:

  • Wolves are a benefit to the West and are essential to restoring the balance of nature.
  • Polling has shown consistently that the vast majority of Arizona and New Mexico voters support the Mexican wolf reintroduction.
  • 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.
  • Mexican gray wolves are unique native animals. They are the rarest, most genetically distinct subspecies of gray wolf in North America and one of the most endangered wolves in the world.
  • 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

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.
  • 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 letters to the media outlets below that published similar articles:

Arizona Republic

Submit letter here.

Arizona Daily Star
Submit your letter here

East Valley Tribune
Submit your letter here

Thank you for giving these wonderful wolves a voice!


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Photo credit: Rebecca Bose, Wolf Conservation Center

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