An area set aside in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona for the recovery of Mexican gray wolves is not big enough, according to a regional official with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We can’t, over time, maintain genetic viability in the little area that they have,” said Southwest Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle.
The agency has proposed expanding the range of the wolves and as a result has reignited passions about whether and where humans should coexist with the predators.
Ranchers and rural families were outraged as the plan was discussed at a public meeting on Tuesday in Pinetop. A similar meeting took place last month in Albuquerque, N.M., where environmentalists spoke in favor of the proposal.
The federal agency hadn’t planned to have any meetings in Arizona but was pressured by politicians to allow Arizonans the chance to speak as well.
Under the current proposed plan, wolves would be allowed to live in forested habitat as far north as Interstate 40. The USFWS is considering removing the gray wolf from the endangered species list nationwide and designating the Mexican gray wolf as a protected subspecies. But it would likely keep its experimental population designation. That means that if wolves left their designated borders, they would be captured and removed.
However, biologists have identified the Grand Canyon region as some of the last, best territory for wolves. Although few people live in the area, the reintroduction has been blocked in part by hunters who want to protect big game on the North Kaibab.
“It’s up to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to go forward and do their jobs based on the best available science and not the politics of state and federal agencies,” said Emily Nelson of the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project. “We might see the opportunity slip by us if we’re not outspoken about wanting to see wolves in the Grand Canyon.”
The State of Utah has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to a group called Big Game Forever to lobby against the lobo and its potential reintroduction to the North Rim. The group was audited at the request of Democratic state legislators after receiving payments of $300,000 the past two years for unspecified lobbying purposes, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. The lobbying group said it was fighting the Mexican gray wolf’s reintroduction, which many in southern Utah fear will quickly migrate into the remote region.
A test of time
The Mexican wolf was reintroduced in 1998. Biologists say there are at least 75 wolves in the wild in the two states. Federal officials believe it’s necessary to make more room for packs — 14 at last count — to squeeze the most from a limited gene pool.
Nelson said that whatever happens with the official reintroduction plan, she’s optimistic about the chances of wolves in northern Arizona.
“I’m always very optimistic that the wolves will come here on their own because the wolves will follow the best habitat and seek out the best places to find mates,” Nelson said. “I think the people of northern Arizona are much more supportive of wolf recovery. Every public poll in Arizona has shown the majority of people support wolf recovery in the Grand Canyon region.”
But many local elected officials from rural areas of the state spoke out against expanded wolf reintroduction at the meeting in Pinetop on Tuesday.
“The sad truth is that the wolves are already here,” Globe Mayor Terry Wheeler said during Tuesday’s meeting.
But if they’re released in Gila County as proposed, he said, wolves will soon be in Scottsdale “munching down on pink Pomeranians.”
Others in the crowd of about 300 people responded with pronouncements of hysteria or “lobophobia” after several people angrily accused the government of endangering children. Biologists said wolves are wild animals requiring caution but they have not attacked anyone since reintroduction began.
Members of the White Mountain Apache and Havasupai tribes spoke for protection. A group of Havasupai elders said they wanted to see wolves inside the Grand Canyon.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to more than double the area in which captive wolves could be released to 12,500 square miles. The release zone currently is restricted to the southern Apache National Forest, but it would grow north and west to the Payson area, including the full Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and three ranger districts in the Tonto National Forest. It would also expand east in New Mexico, across Gila National Forest and into Cibola National Forest.
December 06, 2013 5:05 am • By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS and DAILY SUN STAFF
PLEASE TAKE ACTION FOR MEXICAN WOLVES!
You can help ensure the future of the lobo by submitting comments to the Fish and Wildlife Service, and by writing a letter to the editor of the Arizona Daily Sun.One letter 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.
- While giving Mexican wolves their own Endangered Species Act listing is long overdue, delisting gray wolves throughout the U.S. is counter to protecting Mexican wolves. The proposed rule will leave gray wolves unprotected in places that scientists have said are needed for Mexican wolf recovery, making it more difficult to protect Mexican gray wolves even if they are allowed to expand into new areas.
- The USFWS should move forward with allowing new wolves to be released throughout the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. The Mexican gray wolf is the most endangered mammal in the U.S. with only about 75 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.
- Wolves once lived throughout the west 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 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.
- Additional populations of Mexican wolves are necessary to their recovery and genetic health, as is the ability for wolves to move between populations.
- Capturing and moving wolves is always a risky business that can result in death or trauma to the wolf.
- The USFWS should designate Mexican gray wolves as essential. By labeling all of the wild wolves as “nonessential” the USFWS ignores science and the reality of 15 years of experience with reintroducing wolves.The 75 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 USFWS needs to quit stalling and complete a comprehensive recovery plan at the same time as or before changing the current rule.
Make sure you:
- The likelihood of a person being hurt by a wolf is almost non-existent. In rural areas, people are far more likely to be harmed by things accepted as part of daily life, such as domestic dogs, livestock, or off-road vehicles. Mexican wolves are small, weighing 50-85 pounds, and tend to avoid people.
- 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.)
- Provide your name, 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 to the Editor of the Arizona Daily Sun here.
Thank you for speaking out to save Mexican wolves!
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