The Arizona Game and Fish Commission wants federal protection of the Mexican wolf stripped as a way to “break through the gridlock” in the wolf- reintroduction program.
The commission voted 4-1 Saturday to support a bill pushed by a group of congressional Republicans that would delist the Mexican wolf as an endangered species, along with all other gray wolves living in the Northern Rockies and elsewhere in this country.
But a group of congressional Democrats including Raul Grijalva of Tucson has written the U.S. Interior Department saying that more, not less, federal protection of the Mexican wolf is “urgently needed.”
State game officials and ranchers say Arizona can do a better job managing the wolf than the federal government. Environmentalists say that without federal protection, the Mexican wolf might not even be around today.
THE STATE’S VIEW
In a statement released Monday, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, which carries out game commission policies, said that if the wolf were delisted, the state would become more heavily involved in planning the species’ future and would run wolf reintroduction in a “more affordable, efficient and effective manner.”
Delisting the Mexican wolf would turn its management over to Arizona and New Mexico wildlife agencies and remove the federal ban on killing or harming wolves. Game and Fish said Arizona wolves would continue to be protected through state laws, and that the commission has no plans to let people hunt them.
The commission not only doesn’t want to reduce wolf conservation, it desires to work with “all who are willing to come to the table to negotiate and seek solutions to issues,” the Game and Fish Department said.
In a census a year ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the wild Mexican gray wolf population had dropped to 42, its lowest number in seven years. Since reintroduction began in 1998, 34 of the wolves have been shot and more than 40 died of other causes.
From the start, the Mexican-wolf reintroduction program has been controversial. Ranchers have regularly complained about wolves eating livestock. Environmentalists and some biologists have complained the Fish and Wildlife Service hasn’t done enough to protect wolves or ensure their recovery.
Federal protection has left key decisions in endangered species issues up to judges, fostering “a litigation-driven, bureaucratic process that has driven up the cost of conservation and made Mexican-wolf conservation unaffordable for the state, jeopardizing the entire future of the species in Arizona,” Game and Fish said.
Environmentalists counter that the wolf would fare worse without federal protection.
“In suggesting that a population this small doesn’t deserve the protection of the Endangered Species Act, the (Game and Fish) commission has forsaken their responsibility to both science and stewardship,” said Eva Sargent of Defenders of Wildlife.
And in a letter last Wednesday to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Grijalva and 11 other congressional Democrats wrote “with a sense of urgency” to advise Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service to take five steps to increase the Mexican wolf population, “before … this unique and vital animal can no longer be saved from extinction.”
They want the service to immediately release 22 wolves into the wild, eight from Arizona and 14 from New Mexico. The Congress members said the service should immediately convene a team of scientists to prepare a Mexican-wolf recovery plan. The Interior Department should also take back radio telemetry receivers from ranchers that environmentalists suspect – and ranchers deny – are being used to track wolves so ranchers can kill them, the letter said.
“The urgency in getting more wolves into the wild in time to reproduce next year, and making them safer, is not to be discounted. Frighteningly, if the short-term is not attended to, it may prove entirely too late for the Mexican gray wolf,” said the Democrats’ letter.
Michael Robinson, of the Center for Biological Diversity, pointed to three instances in 2008 and 2009 in which Fish and Wildlife rejected Game and Fish recommendations that the service kill, trap or remove wolves linked to several livestock killings.
“Game and Fish’s rhetoric can refer to states rights. But the fact of the matter is that the Mexican wolf came to the point of being seven animals from extinction. The Endangered Species Act saved them,” Robinson said.
To read the full article, published in the Arizona Daily Star on December 7, 2010, and leave a comment, click here.
Note: This article paints a misleading picture of the AZ Game and Fish Department’s actions. Quite simply, the “gridlock” the agency refers to translates into not having the authority to kill and remove Mexican wolves from the wild. This was confirmed in their meeting on Dec. 4, when their Endangered Species Coordinator, Terry Johnson, suggested that people should be willing to sacrifice “two to twelve wolves” to maintain the livestock industry on public lands.
You can include some of the following points in your letter:
* Only around 40 Mexican wolves remain in the wild-they are at the brink of extinction.
* During the years when AZ Game and Fish had a disproportionate influence on the Mexican wolf reintroduction through its leadership on the Adaptive Management Oversight Committee, the wild population declined to dangerous levels.
* The AZ Game and Fish department advocates killing and removing wolves that depredate on livestock; a recently ended policy to do this resulted in the loss of many wolves from the wild, regardless of their genetic importance, low population numbers, or the presence of dependent pups.
* The majority of economic costs of the reintroduction program are associated with “managing” wolves-agency killings, removals, translocations, and with livestock related expenses.
* Polling shows that 77% of Arizona voters support the Mexican wolf reintroduction. The AZ Game and Fish Department is betraying their responsibility to good science and Arizona’s people and wildlife by supporting congressional delisting.
* Never before has Congress enacted an amendment to the Endangered Species Act stripping a single species of federal protection. The legislation the AZ Game and Fish Department supports violates the integrity of science and the Endangered Species Act. It will set a devastating precedent for any wildlife, anywhere, that becomes inconvenient to special interests.
Please write a letter today!
And continue to contact your members of Congress and the White House to stop this deadly legislation from passing.
Photo credit: Mexican gray wolf courtesy of C. Morrison