Sen. Jeff Flake is seeking to remove federal Endangered Species Act protections from the Mexican gray wolves roaming Arizona and New Mexico.
Flake, R-Ariz., last week introduced a bill to lift the animals' endangered status if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determines there are at least 100 wolves in the Blue Range recovery area overlapping the two states' boundary.
At last count a year ago there were 113.
Shaking off federal protections would place wolves solely under state management. It's an idea that Arizona ranchers have advocated to limit wolf kills of animals in livestock herds and to end federal regulation complications.
"This is the clear way to get out of the (federal) program and yet still have wolves on the ground," said Patrick Bray, executive vice president of the Arizona Cattle Growers' Association.
Wolf advocates say such a low population would doom the wolves to extinction, as they already suffer in-breeding and illegal killings.
The 100-wolf threshold grew out of a 1982 recovery plan that the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote when there were no Mexican gray wolves living in the wild. The wolves, a smaller subspecies of the gray wolves roaming Yellowstone National Park and other northern regions, had disappeared from the Southwest and biologists had gathered the last handful from Mexico to start a captive breeding program.
Reintroduction began in 1998, when former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt was U.S. Interior secretary.
Last November the federal agency updated its recovery goal to 320 wolves in the U.S. At that time Flake called the plan "another federal regulatory nightmare" for ranchers.
Bray commended the senator for trying to rein in the program before the predator's numbers explode.
"If (100 wolves) was good enough in 1982, it should be good enough in 2018," Bray said.
Wolf advocates have long argued that the old 100-wolf goal was just a first benchmark to keep reintroduction expectations realistic, and had no scientific basis. Since then the science — including the biological basis for last year's plan update — has indicated that 100 wolves cannot be self-sustaining, said Bryan Bird, Southwest program manager for Defenders of Wildlife.
Conservationists thought the new 320-wolf goal too low, he said, but the states supported it. Now, he argued, Flake wants to undo the agency's experts and their compromises with the states.
"It's politics instead of science," Bird said. If protections are removed now, "The species would be virtually guaranteed to go extinct in the wild."
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 bill Senator Flake has introduced disregards the role of science in recovering endangered species, and ignores the fact that the states support the recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery plan for the Mexican gray wolf.
- Senator Flake's bill undermines the will of the people by circumventing the overwhelmingly popular Endangered Species Act.
- In a 2008 poll of registered voters, 77 % of Arizonans and 69% of New Mexicans supported “the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf into these public lands in Arizona and New Mexico.”
- In a 2013 poll of registered voters, 87% of both Arizonans and New Mexicans agreed that “wolves are a vital part of America’s wilderness and natural heritage.” 83% of Arizonans and 80% of New Mexicans agreed that “the US Fish and Wildlife Service should make every effort to help wolves recover and prevent extinction.”
- It has now been 40 years since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first listed the Mexican gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act, yet the species is still struggling to remain viable.
- 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.
- We have a moral, economic and scientific responsibility to restore endangered species like the Mexican gray wolf.
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