In a popularity contest, wolves will outrank cattle. Except at the Arizona Legislature.
The number of endangered Mexican gray wolves is down. Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature could make things worse – despite their lawyer’s warning not to.
First the numbers: The annual count population count released Thursday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows there were 97 wolves in Arizona and New Mexico at the end of 2015. That’s down from 110 at the end of 2014.
This is significant because wolf numbers had been on the increase for years.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to do more – and do it fast – to save the lobo from extinction,” said Eva Sargent of the Defenders of Wildlife in a press release.
She listed several strategies that could help, including more wolf releases.
But the Arizona Legislature is getting ready to block that.
Federal law? Who cares about that?
Senate Bill 1243, sponsored by Republican Sen. Gail Griffin, requires the Arizona Game and Fish Commission to approve any wolf release, restricts where wolves can be released and requires a full DNA profile of each released wolf.
Arizona's Republican lawmakers and the Game and Fish Commission have been hostile to the wolf recovery program despite wide-spread public support for the wolves.
The state Senate attorney who reviews bills to see if they are constitutional says requiring prior approval of release would likely be pre-empted by federal law, according to the Associated Press. The Mexican gray wolf recovery program is governed by the federal Endangered Species Act.
Nevertheless, the bill passed through the Rules Committee, which is supposed to check bills for legal problems.
Senate President Andy Biggs said "he doesn’t necessarily agree with the committee attorney’s analysis,” according to the AP.
If this bill passes, Arizona is courting another lawsuit.
Not to mention standing in the way of public opinion.
Wolves are high-order predators brought to the brink of extinction for the sake of cattle ranchers. These public-land ranchers form the core of opposition to wolf reintroduction, joined by some hunters who see the wolves as competition for elk and deer.
But species restoration in the interest of biodiversity is a long-standing national goal spelled out in the Endangered Species Act.
Arizona should not get in the way.