There used to be wolves on the North Rim and the North Kaibab forest, but not anymore.
And there are no plans to reintroduce them anytime soon.
On paper, that seems like a missed opportunity. If there is one place in Arizona where wolves and humans might stand a chance of coexisting, it would be the nearly roadless forests and plateaulands north of the Grand Canyon.
The reason wolves, both the northern gray and Mexican gray subspecies, disappeared from southern and central Arizona was human hunting. When the ranges were opened to cattle and sheep, the wolves became threats to livelihoods and were eliminated. Ranchers in the White Mountains still have that attitude, and even 100 reintroduced wolves are too many.
But the North Rim and North Kaibab, along with three national monuments in the region, don’t have those kinds of conflicts. The national park has no cattle, and there are very few grazing allotments left on the North Kaibab. The reason wolves and other predators were killed off a century ago was because they preyed on deer and elk that trophy hunters prized for their antlers.
But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is already committed to reintroducing up to 320 Mexican gray wolves in the White Mountains of Arizona and New Mexico, and another 170 in Mexico. It says that’s the maximum that can be sustained without major impacts on cattle, deer and elk.
As for wolves north of I-40, one panel of wolf experts, citing the successful reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone, thought several packs could be sustained as far north as the southern Rockies. But USF&WS says it is not ready to go there – and neither are the states.
That last point is important because the latest draft plan by the feds puts implementation and enforcement in the hands of state game managers -- the same people, say critics, who are the reason the federal Endangered Species Act is needed.
We would think that the compromise by the feds – no expansion of the wolf range and giving states more control over the timing and location of wolf releases – would cool some of the anti-wolf rhetoric coming from Game and Fish.
But as we have reported, Arizona wildlife managers continue to oppose any new wolf releases, much less any growth in the packs. And cattle ranchers complained at a meeting last week in Flagstaff that their input into the latest plan – which they also oppose -- was minimal and ignored.
And on the other side, wolf advocates and conservationists are dismayed by more state involvement in the plan and its disregard for northern reintroduction.
We suppose that if everyone is mad at Fish and Wildlife, then they must be doing something right. But in the case of wolves, there appears to be no middle ground. To some, they are the scourge of the settled West and the bane of sportsmen. To others, they are the pinnacle predator that will return balance to a disrupted food chain.
As we have noted in the past, a reintroduction plan without steeply ramped-up public education and outreach, along with a phase-in plan for expansion, will leave the feds very little leverage in further negotiations.
For the sake of ranchers and others in the White Mountains, we’d urge Fish and Wildlife to take a go-slow approach to reintroduction that balances sustainable pack numbers with minimal levels of cattle predation. Short of killing wolves that prey on cattle, project managers should do everything possible to protect livestock, including relocation, stun guns and other aversion tactics. Ranchers who lose cattle to wolves should be reimbursed with as little red tape as possible.
For those who support expansion northward, locals deserve to have the following concerns addressed:
— How many wolves are likely to migrate south of the Grand Canyon from North Rim release sites?
—What is likely to be their main source of food and where will they get it? Will it be enough to keep them in largely roadless, unsettled areas?
—How will wolves affect game animals, such as elk and deer, and where?
—How likely are humans to encounter them on roadways? Forest trails? Ranches? Subdivisions? Which locations are most likely and what should people do if this occurs?
—What is the threat to pets from wolves? To children?
The questions above on both sides are only a start. Fish and Wildlife should know by now it can’t satisfy everyone on wolves. But the broader the base of knowledge in the general population, the more trust it will generate in any plan that is implemented – and the more informed engagement the feds will get when changes are needed.
Show your support for Mexican wolves with a Letter to the Editor today!
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 for writing your letter 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.
Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required, by law, to incorporate the best available science into its Mexican gray wolf recovery plan. Unfortunately, they have scrapped this duty in order to attain the best political deal they could find. They have chosen to make hostile state agencies happy rather than uphold their duty to consider the best available science. The previous recovery planning science team clearly identified what these wolves need, yet those findings are being ignored.
• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to hand the management of the Mexican gray wolf recovery program to the states who have done everything in their power to sabotage the species’ recovery. Arizona game and fish ran the program for six years previously, and in that time they managed to reduce the number of wolves in the wild. The serious genetic problems the wild population is in is a direct result of the mismanagement by Arizona. If this plan is not dramatically changed, it will very likely drive the lobo to extinction.
• The Mexican gray wolf draft recovery plan includes reckless delisting criteria for the critically endangered wolf. The plan allows for delisting the wolf after twenty-two wolves released from captivity reach reproductive age. But just reaching reproductive age does not ensure their genes will be contributed to the wild population. We have seen that poaching is a major threat to individual wild wolves and if these wolves are killed before they breed, the species will still be removed from the endangered species list.
• Mexican gray wolves will need connectivity between wild populations in order to recover. Connectivity would be easy were they allowed to establish in the two additional suitable habitats in the U.S., the Grand Canyon area and the Southern Rockies. Instead, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to restrict the wolves to south of Interstate 40 and to establish a second population in Mexico. There is a barrier along large sections of the international border, talk of extending that barrier to an impenetrable wall, and the last wolf who crossed that border was removed from the wild.
• The federal agency charged with recovery of the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf has decided to put the onus of recovery on Mexico, despite the fact that this could wipe the species out. Mexico does not have nearly as much public land for the wolf, they have very little enforcement to deal with poaching, and as species shift north in response to climate change Mexican habitat will become even less suitable for wolves.
Make sure you:
• Thank the paper for publishing the article
• Submit your letter as soon as possible. The chance of your letter being published declines after a day or two since the article was published
• Do not repeat any negative messages from the article, such as “so and so said that wolves kill too many cows, but…” 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, under 250 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.
DO EVEN MORE FOR LOBOS!
Submit comments to the Fish and Wildlife Service before August 29
Hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to:
Public Comments Processing
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC
5275 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041-3803
Additional Documentation Referenced in Draft Plan: