Archive for the ‘Arizona’ Tag
November 6, 2015
Source D.C. Chieftain
Hearing set about county effort to halt release
Mexican Wolf at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge Wolf facility. Courtesy photo
Protecting livestock and human lives are among the reasons some are opposed to the release of Mexican Wolves in Socorro County.
Helping the wolves fight off extinction is the reason others support the federal governments’ intention to release the wolves despite opposition from local and state officials.
There seems to be no middle ground heading into a public hearing and possible vote by the Socorro county Board of Commissioners to bar the release of the wolves as part of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program.
“It seems to be an inflammatory effort to get the federal government to back off its decision to release the wolves into Socorro County,” said Michael Robinson, of the Center of Biological Diversity, about the proposed ordinance the commissioners could vote on at their meeting Tuesday.
A commissioner from a neighboring county doesn’t quite see the issue the same way.
“It’s easy to be for the release when it’s not happening at your back door,” said Catron County Commissioner Anita Hand.
Socorro County Commissioner Martha Salas will be among officials making a decision after residents are given the opportunity to make their opinions known at the 10 a.m. meeting.
County Manager Deliliah Walsh said the ordinance is on the agenda to be voted on.
But it’s possible they could table it, Walsh said.
Should the commissioners approve the ordinance, it would go in effect 60 days after the vote, Walsh said.
The feedback Salas has received so far has been overwhelmingly against the release.
She recently attended a chapter meeting at the Alamo Navajo Reservation where reservation leaders voted against allowing the release in the county.
“They say the presence of the wolves has already pushed bears and cougars more toward the reservation,” Salas said. “Now they fear the wolves are going to be coming to the reservation.”
Robinson said the proposed release point in the San Mateos is far from the reservation, but acknowledged wolves could roam a good distance if their food source was scarce. He said the wolves generally stayed confined if food sources were plentiful.
Catron County Attacks
Hand cites attack on livestock as a primary reason she is opposed to the release. So far in 2015, she said there have been 36 confirmed wolf kills on livestock, with four other possible kills.
The county also records two cows being injured in wolf attacks, as well as 5 pets.
Hand also cited 10 sightings of wolves by county residents, including five up close in which a wolf charged two adults, a wolf followed a 12-year old on horseback and one that came within 30 feet of a 2 ½-year old.
“Imagine seeing a cat with no head, a dog ripped apart or calves chewed up,” Hand said.
New Mexico Congressman Steve Pearce, who represents Socorro County, cites the attacks in Catron County as a reason for his opposition to the wolf recovery program. He said he would continue to back efforts to defund the program in Congress.
“Most of Catron County is federal land,” Pearce said. “They have a small tax base. They depend heavily on the cattle industry.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Public Affairs Specialist Jeff Humphrey said the organization understands concerns about the potential for attacks on livestock or people.
“Human safety remains of utmost concern to the Service,” Humphrey said. We advise the public to always take the necessary steps and precautions to remain safe when in nature. We have not documented any cases of Mexican wolf attacks on a person.”
Robinson and Mary Katherine Ray, wildlife chairwoman of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, agreed with Humphrey that attacks on humans were rare and even said that attacks on livestock were not as common as portrayed.
Ray, who lives in the San Mateos, saw wolves near her home.
“And they ran away as soon as they saw me,” Ray said.
She said the pack has since been relocated to Arizona.
Robinson cited federal statistics kept each year in wolf recovery program in the Blue Range recovery area. The statistics showed the most livestock kills in a year by the wolves was 36 in 2007. A total of 30 kills were recorded in 2014.
The statistics can be found at:
and also reveals action by the Fish and Wildlife Services in response to attacks.
“Cattle is not really on their menu,” Ray said.
Elk is among the main sources of food for the wolves, Robinson and Ray said.
Ray and Humphrey both emphasize that rules are now set up to allow residents to “take” or kill wolves in case of such attacks. or if they feel they are in danger. Ray said residents can obtain permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do so.
“The Endangered Species Act, as well as our regulations for the MWEPA, allow for the take (including injuring or killing) of a Mexican wolf in self-defense or the defense of others,” Humphrey said. “Our regulations also provide for opportunistic harassment and intentional harassment of Mexican wolves. The regulations also allow for the take of a Mexican wolf under various circumstances to protect pet dogs and livestock.”
The ordinance, however, makes the Socorro Sheriff’s Office the agency the public should use in dealing with wolf interactions if U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services are not available. County Attorney Adren Nance said the ordinance does not give the Sheriff’s Office new authority, but recognizes the authority the Sheriff’s Office already has.
The Socorro County Sheriff’s Office serves as animal control in the county.
Needed for survival
Ray feels the wolf relief program is necessary because “we destroyed the species.”
Both Robinson and Humphrey said the release was necessary to introduce diversity into genes of the Mexican wolves already in the wild. Robinson said inbreeding has made the wolves more vulnerable to disease and lowered their reproduction rate, cutting their chances of survival.
“The wild population does not have adequate gene diversity, which compromises the health of individual wolves (inbreeding) and the overall health of the population,” Humphrey said. “We can improve the gene diversity of the wild population by releasing wolves from captivity with genes not already represented in the wild population. In other words, our releases from captivity at this time will be aimed at improving the genetic situation rather than increasing the size of the population, which is growing naturally without the aid of initial releases.”
Supporters of the wolf release program question whether Socorro County has the authority to enforce the ordinance on federal land.
Nance acknowledges that case law conflicts on whether the ordinance would be enforceable.
“But it would address the release on private land and would prevent a ranch owner such as Ted Turner from doing so, ” Nance said.
Turner owns the Armendaris Ranch in southern New Mexico that is home to several wildlife research projects. Endangered species have been released on the ranch.
The U.S. Department of the Interior granted permission for the release of the wolves into the state a couple of weeks ago despite a decision by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish in September to refuse the request by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to do so.
“I don’t like the federal government going against the wishes of the state of New Mexico, ” Pearce said. “Why don’t they release the wolves in Central Park? Wolves used to roam there too.”
Release not determined
Even with permission from DOI, the release of the wolves by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may not come for quite some time, Humphrey said.
“For 2016, our process is a bit more complicated, and potentially delayed, because we are still working with the Forest Service and the public to identify new initial release sites in the recently expanded Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area (MWEPA),” Humphrey said.
The number of wolves the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to release into areas of Arizona and New Mexico has not been determined. The delay in the release has caused the service to shelve its previous plan.
“Last spring, we’d requested permits for up to 10 pups (for cross-fostering) and a pair of adults and their progeny,” Humphrey said. “The window/season for such releases has passed, so these releases aren’t imminent.”
The Mexican wolf population has grown for several years in a row, reaching its highest population size to date as of the 2014 end of year count, at a minimum of 110 wolves.
“We wil conduct our 2015 annual count in January 2016,” Humphrey said
At the 2014 end of year count, the wolves were approximately equally spread between the two states, with Arizona having several more than New Mexico.
Currently, the location of the population can best be tracked using the “Occupied Range” map, available on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website: http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/mexicanwolf/TADC.cfm . People can click on the map for a larger version of it. This map also indicates the most recent aerial locations of the radio-collared wolves.
By Scott Turner El Defensor Chieftain managing editor email@example.com
October 12, 2015
More releases of wolves are needed to genetically bolster the population in the wild. Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS
Letter to feds points out dangers of ‘genetic bottleneck’
Political resistance at the state level shouldn’t deter federal biologists from releasing more Mexican gray wolves into the wild, according to conservation activists, who say that such releases are needed to prevent the wild population from becoming genetically crippled.
In a letter to federal officials, biologists and wildlife advocates urged Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to release at least five more packs of wolves into the Gila National Forest in New Mexico through the end of this year and into 2016.
The “perilously low” number of breeding pairs makes the wolf population vulnerable to inbreeding depression that could send the population into a downward spiral, more than 40 biologists and conservation groups warned in the Oct. 8 letter.
“Federal biologists know they must release more Mexican wolves from captivity, but the Obama administration has permitted the release of just four,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Then the government recaptured one and shot another, and the remaining two also died, which argues not only for stricter protections but also for many more releases to ensure that some wolves actually add to the gene pool.”
Conservation advocates said in the letter that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is underestimating the number of wolf releases needed to nudge wolf populations toward recovery and long-term stability:
“What worries us, in addition to the absence of releases in the seven and a half months since the rule went into effect, is that the Service’s final numbers –– 35 to 50 wolves to be released over the course of 20 years, with more at the outset and fewer later on – seem not to take into account evidence that far more releases will be required to address the crisis of inbreeding.”
“The longer we delay in introducing new wolves to increase genetic variation in the wild Mexican gray wolf populations, the greater our future challenge will be to ensure that this distinctive wolf survives,” said Joseph Cook, of the American Society of Mammalogists. “Small populations with limited genetic variability often suffer from the consequences of inbreeding depression, Small populations with limited genetic variability also are generally less resilient to changing environmental conditions and less resistant to the introduction of novel pathogens.”
According to the latest census number, 110 wolves, including just eight breeding pairs, live in the combined Gila National Forest in New Mexico and Apache National Forest and Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona. Fewer than 15 wolves live in the wild in Mexico.
“Mexican wolves are part of the natural heritage of all Americans,” said Mary Katherine Ray of the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande chapter. “The Endangered Species Act, which requires the protection and recovery of imperiled animals, continues to be a very popular national law. Though a vocal minority at the state level is attempting to obstruct the return of wolves to the Southwest, the Fish and Wildlife Service should proceed to release more wolves to safeguard their still fragile population.”
Conservation activists say there’s plenty of room for wolves to roam in the Gila Wilderness, and that more hesitation will simply delay the targeted recovery of the species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife early this year expanded the area where captive-bred wolves could be released to include the 3.3-million-acre Gila National Forest. The Gila is the fourth-largest national forest in the country and encompasses the world’s first official wilderness area, designated in 1924, that was protected from construction of roads. The Gila also supports thousands of deer, elk and other animals on which wolves prey, thereby overall strengthening such animals’ herds and preventing overgrazing. Yet more than half of this national forest has no wolves.
By Bob Berwyn
From: azCentral 12 News
Dec. 30, 2014 by Brenna Goth
(Photo: Arizona Game and Fish Department)
The federally protected female wolf seen last month near the Grand Canyon may have been shot and killed in southwestern Utah on Sunday, wildlife groups fear.
If that’s true, the first northern gray wolf seen in northern Arizona in 70 years has been lost.
A hunter shot the radio-collared animal over the weekend in the Tushar Mountains outside of Beaver, Utah, according to a release from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. The mountains are about 200 miles north of the Grand Canyon.
The hunter mistook the animal for a coyote, the agency said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not confirmed the wolf’s identity. But the Utah agency said the federal service identified the animal as a 3-year-old, female northern gray wolf. She was collared last January in Wyoming.
That description and the wolf’s location means she was likely the Grand Canyon wanderer, said Michael Robinson, wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity.
That wolf, first seen in northern Arizona in October, has has been celebrated by conservationists as a symbol of hope for the species’ recovery. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the wolf traveled at least 450 miles to reach northern Arizona and was likely looking for food or a mate.
“Justice should be done for this animal,” Robinson said. “This shouldn’t just be brushed under the rug.”
MONTINI: Hooowl no! What this killing teaches us about wolves, and us.
Conservationists were early advocates for the radio-collared animal spotted and photographed by visitors and hunters on the Kaibab Plateau north of the Grand Canyon National Park.
State wildlife agencies worked together to track the animal after they discovered its radio collar was dead. They were originally unsure if it was a wolf or wolf-dog hybrid.
An animal seen north of Grand Canyon on Oct 27, 2014.(Photo: Arizona Game and Fish Department)
In November, a genetic test on the animal’s scat showed it was the first Rocky Mountain gray wolf seen in the area since the 1940s.
Attempts to replace the wolf’s tracking collar were unsuccessful, though the agency said DNA tests could confirm its identity from previously captured wolves.
Gray wolves were once common in the area but disappeared in the early 1900s after being hunted and killed. Robinson said last month that the wolf’s presence proved the Grand Canyon was still a suitable environment for the species.
Sunday’s death — whether or not it’s the same wolf — is a setback, he said.
“Whether it was persecution or recklessness, it highlights that wolves still need protection,” he said.
The Center for Biological Diversity is calling for a full investigation into the Sunday shooting.
Conservation officials are still reviewing the case, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
From: Lobos of the Southwest
Dec. 15, 2014
Writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper is an excellent way to raise awareness about critically endangered Mexican gray wolves and the steps needed to help them thrive. Surveys of newspaper readers show that the letters page is among the most closely read parts of the paper. It’s also the page policy-makers look to as a barometer of public opinion.
AZ Republic, Phoenix
December 15, 2014
Politics trump science at Game and Fish
Chairman Robert Mansell of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission proposed that the wolf on the Kaibab Plateau in Northern Arizona is a result of a “radical environmental conspiracy.” (Letters, Dec. 7)
This confirms my suspicion that the commission does not utilize proper science when making decisions in regards to wildlife management.
The commissioner provides this conspiracy theory without providing the evidence to defend it. Wolves have been known to travel long distances without detection and this wolf, until proven otherwise, is no exception.
The commissioner also confirms what I have known for some time, that this commission is truly politically motivated. They should not use venues, like the largest circulating paper in Arizona, to expound their opinions.
Arizona Republic, Phoenix
December 11, 2014
Commissioner’s Letter Disrespectful of Wildlife and Arizonans
Robert Mansell’s letter in Sunday’s Republic (“Wolf appears during controversy: Coincidence?,” Sunday Opinions) was as big a piece of groundless, inflammatory and uninformed claptrap as I’ve seen in quite some time. Mr. Mansell’s round-about allegation that a wild northern gray wolf was somehow “planted” on the Kaibab Plateau in northern Arizona in an effort to divert attention away from impending decisions on wolf management is at best paranoid, and at worst downright disingenuous.
As Chairman of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, it is Mr. Mansell’s sworn duty to “conserve Arizona’s diverse wildlife resources and manage for safe, compatible outdoor recreation opportunities for current and future generations” (per the Department’s mission statement). Yet Mr. Mansell seems to be GAME-ing the system and FISH-ing for excuses not to responsibly manage one particular species of Arizona’s diverse wildlife – namely, the Mexican gray wolf.
Mr. Mansell’s letter was both disrespectful and a disservice to the majority of Arizonans who support the successful reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf.
Many thanks and congratulations to these talented and dedicated letter writers-your letters make a big difference in the effort to protect and recover our lobos!
Please take this opportunity to help Mexican wolves by writing your own great letter to the editor!
Submission information and talking points are here.
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From: Deseret News
Wildlife officials have confirmed the first gray wolf in northern Arizona in more than 70 years.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A female gray wolf from the Northern Rockies traveled hundreds of miles into northern Arizona, marking the species’ first appearance in the region in more than 70 years and the farthest journey south, wildlife officials confirmed Friday.
A wolf-like animal had been spotted roaming the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and the adjacent national forest since last month. Biologists collected its scat and sent it to a University of Idaho laboratory for testing, verifying what environmentalists had suspected based on its appearance and a radio collar around its neck.
“The corroboration is really good to get,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity.
Biologists don’t know the wolf’s age or from where it traveled. The radio collar wasn’t transmitting a signal, and cold weather forced biologists to suspended efforts to capture the animal and replace the collar.
The Idaho lab might be able to glean more details about the wolf from its DNA, but U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Jeff Humphrey said that could take several weeks or months.
“We’ll let this wolf be a wolf where it’s at, and if it decides it’s going to move back north, it can do that,” he said. “Or if somebody joins her, then that’s nature taking its course.”
Wolves often roam vast distances in search of food and mates. But the farther they go, the less likely they are to find a mate, said Ed Bangs, who led recovery efforts for wolves in the Northern Rockies over two decades before retiring from the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011.
“It’s looking for love,” he said. “It leaves the core population and doesn’t know the love of its life is going to be right over the next hill, so it just keeps traveling.”
About 25 percent of the roughly 1,700 wolves from the Northern Rockies are being tracked, wildlife officials said. They are distinguished from the Mexican gray wolves found in the Southwest by their more full bodies and less pointed ears.
Mike Jimenez with the Fish and Wildlife Service in Wyoming said Northern Rockies gray wolves are hard-wired to disperse and have traveled hundreds of miles. One young female started off in Montana and traveled 3,000 miles over six months, making stops in Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Colorado before it died, he said. Colorado had been the farthest journey south for the animals until the female was confirmed in Arizona, he said.
Wolves from another major population in the western Great Lakes have likewise been found far from home.
Wolves largely were exterminated early last century across the lower 48 states, except in the western Great Lakes area. The Northern Rockies population was restored after 66 gray wolves from Canada were relocated to central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in the mid-1990s.
They’ve been absent from the Grand Canyon region since the 1940s.
The Fish and Wildlife Service in recent years lifted federal protections for the animals in the western Great Lakes and the Northern Rockies. A federal judge recently ordered the protections re-instated in Wyoming after wildlife advocates sued.
Environmentalists are pressing for continued protection of gray wolves. Meanwhile, they celebrated the news of the one in northern Arizona.
“I wonder if she has any sense of the celebrity she has achieved,” said Drew Kerr of WildEarth Guardians.
Associated Press writer Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, contributed to this report.
From: The Post and Courier
by Bo Petersen
A red wolf in its pen at the SeeWee Visitors Center in Awendaw in 2003. Wade Spees/Staff/File
The biggest threat to red wolves continuing in the wild isn’t a lack of money or land. It isn’t landowner opposition. It’s the coyote.
But oddly enough, the nuisance coyote just might be the reason the embattled U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduction program goes ahead, if it does.
That’s the head-shaker takeaway from a recently released review of the wolves’ recovery program. The review’s conclusions are expected to be deciding factors in whether the service keeps pursuing the 30-year-old program. The decision is expected after the first of the year.
The red wolf is a native animal and could be a stabilizing alpha species in an ecosystem getting overrun by invasive coyotes. The coyote has become a suburban menace.
The report doesn’t give much room for hope – calling for expansion of the reintroduction effort and more funding if it is to continue. But environmental groups supporting the wolf’s return are pushing that the wolf belongs in the countryside, to try to turn the decision.
“In the end, the red wolf is all we have left of the wolf in the Southeast. We can restore this cool, native wolf, or you’re going to have coyotes,” said conservation scientist Ron Sutherland, of Wildlands Network.
The red wolf once was the Lowcountry’s own, an animal as big as German shepherd, that moves with a slinking feral grace. Hunted as a varmint, the wolf was pronounced extinct in the wild in 1980, when only 14 captives wolves were known to be alive.
The recovery program was launched in 1987, largely as a wild breeding program at Bull’s Island in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge north of Charleston. Now, the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina is the only place in the world where the wolves still run free.
The coyote problem is one of the chief concerns raised in the review of the program by Wildlife Management Institute, a private Kentucky based group. The concern is two-fold.
With a new night-hunting bill, South Carolina is inviting hunters to use almost any means to reduce expanding wild hog and coyote populations in the state.
First, wolves occasionally interbreed with the coyote, producing an animal that’s been called the coywolf. The hybrid is a larger coyote with more of the wolf’s jaw – capable of bringing down larger prey – and with potentially a lot less of the wolf’s wariness about living near inhabited areas like suburbs.
Already suburban communities around Charleston such as Sullivan’s Island are roiling with complaints about coyotes roaming. Researchers at the Alligator River refuge have launched efforts to keep re-introduced red wolves from interbreeding with coyotes there.
Secondly, there’s controversy among researchers just how genetically distinct the red wolf is from the coyote. The species share large portions of DNA that varies from animal to animal. Some researchers aren’t convinced the red wolves remaining really ought to be considered a distinct species.
Wolves under attack
The review is a periodic re-evaluation required under the federal Endangered Species Act.
On one hand, prospects for the wolves’ return appeared to be improving. The Alligator River refuge now has more than 100 wolves in the wild and about 200 captive. Fish and Wildlife biologists are looking at placing breeding pairs of wolves along remote East Coast islands as an alternative to the semi-captive program now used.
In this Oct. 6, 2011 photo, red wolves walk around their enclosure at the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, N.Y. The Wolf Conservation Center is raising and breeding endangered Mexican and red wolves. The animals roam in large pens on the 27-acre property, eating roadkill and whatever they catch.
Bull’s Island, where that approach started the recovery, is one of the places under consideration.
On the other hand, the program has been handcuffed by small budgets and staff – a shortage of both curtailed the Bull’s Island effort in 2005. Meanwhile, roving wolves are suffering a dire setback in the country outside the Alligator River refuge: They are being shot.
The native red wolf is so similar to the invasive coyote that at least some of the wolves are getting shot by mistake. A law passed recently that made it illegal to hunt coyote in an area around the refuge. And now, after years of relative acceptance, the wolves’ presence is being opposed by a group of landowners there, angry that they now longer can rid properties of the varmint coyote.
The review said the wolf’s distinct genetics need to be firmly established, and markers set for just how much DNA an animal must have to be considered a red wolf. Then, reintroduced wolves ought to be monitored for that marker – to see how much they remain wolves.
For a program already decisively squeezed by budgets and stirring new controversies, the needs for more wild sites, genetics and ongoing genetic monitoring is more than enough for managers to pull the plug, and restrict the wolf to captive sites.
Calls and emails to a Fish and Wildlife spokesman asking for comment were not returned. David Rabon, the longtime recovery program coordinator, has been re-assigned and is leaving the service.
‘Hold their own’
The pesky coyote, though, is prospering, and the wolves could be a prime weapon to keep it under control. Despite occasional, apparently “loner” interbreeding, wolf packs tend to run out coyotes and other deer predators. At the Alligator River refuge, deer herds have improved.
“There might have been a time when people said let’s not bring back the red wolf, but that paradigm has changed,” said Jeff Dennis, a local hunter who publishes the Lowcountry Outdoorsblog. “Now we have coyotes everywhere. Native critters have their place in the ecosystem. They will reclaim that place. I would think that red wolves could hold their own (against coyotes). It might take a long time and a lot of acreage.”
Spots like Francis Marion National Forest and adjacent Cape Romain could be big enough, he said.
That’s what wolf supporters are banking on. Wildlands Network already is talking with private donors to take on some of the cost of continuing the program, including educating landowners about the advantages, Sutherland said. But he concedes what he sees from Fish and Wildlife suggests they are pulling back from it.
“Yeah, it’s going to be tough,” he said. But “$5.4 million per year to manage three (wild) populations, I don’t think it’s too much to spend on an extremely rare species that’s down to its last 100 animals in the wild.”
The future of the red wolf
Among findings of the red wolf recovery program evaluation by the Wildlife Management Institute:
The primary challenges and impediments with the recovery program are: the need for redundancy in wild populations (in places other than Alligator River), (genetic) integrity, the impact of interbreeding with coyotes and the needed size of the landscape and (private land) ownership in the restoration areas.
The taxonomy (genetic difference from coyotes) of the red wolf remains unclear and the dominant ecological challenge to its recovery is (interbreeding) with coyotes.
The high cost and indefinite duration (of the recovery program) raise serious questions regarding the value of continuing this approach.
The original (Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge) area of 225 square miles was unrealistically small given the area’s habitat quality.
The project has demonstrated the captive red wolves can successfully be reintroduced to the wild and rear offspring.
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.
From: tucson.com – Arizona Daily Star
Arizona Game and Fish Deprtment
November 27, 2014 6:00 pm •
She must be lonely, spending Thanksgiving weekend wandering the Grand Canyon’s North Rim all on her own.
She’s a fertile, female wolf, and finding a mate is likely the force that drove her southward from her home in the northern Rocky Mountains.
This is how Ed Bangs, a former federal wolf expert in that region, explained her likely motivation: “It’s looking for love,” he told The Associated Press. “It leaves the core population and doesn’t know the love of its life is going to be right over the next hill, so it just keeps traveling.”
If only there were some wolves nearby …
Of course, there are 83 of them — about 200 miles southeast in the White Mountains and adjacent areas of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. All that stands between her and them is the Grand Canyon and our wildlife bureaucracy.
This week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released documents that spell out some of the details of how they propose to manage the reintroduced Mexican gray wolves of the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. That’s where efforts to reintroduce endangered Mexican gray wolves began in 1998 and foundered for more than a decade before the population began to grow again over the last few years.
The documents show that the service plans to expand the areas in which the wolves are allowed to wander — a welcome change from the strict boundaries and behavioral rules that Arizona Game and Fish enforced during the first decade-plus of the effort. The newly opened areas would include about half of Arizona, including all of the southeastern quadrant, as well as about a third of New Mexico, mostly in the southwestern part of that state.
But the service sets a strict northern boundary for the Mexican gray wolves at Interstate 40. So even if the expanded range were already in effect now, wildlife managers would still prevent wolves from roaming northwest toward the Grand Canyon, cutting the distance between them and this potential new pack member and mate. Wolves north of that line could be picked up and returned or even killed if necessary.
That’s a shame, because this female wolf is from a different subspecies of gray wolves. Her genes, introduced to the semi-inbred population in the Blue Range, would increase their genetic diversity and vitality considerably. It’s also a shame because it puts our abstract rules and boundaries on what could be a natural flow.
“Wolf geneticists over the last decade have been documenting that there was genetically a gradient from the Mexican gray wolf to the northern Rockies wolves,” conservation biologistCarlos Carroll told me.
In other words, there wasn’t a clear genetic distinction between Mexican gray wolves in the south and northern gray wolves, but rather a transition zone between, say, Arizona and Wyoming, where the wolves were less and less Mexican the farther north they were found.
“That old paradigm of drawing hard lines on a map to divide subspecies — that was typical of naturalists 100 years ago,” said Carroll, of the Klamath Center for Conservation Research.
He was a member of the group of scientists contributing to the Mexican gray wolf recovery team up until last year and was lead author of a paper on wolf genetics in the journal Conservation Biology published last year. Among its conclusions: “long-term prospects for recovery of gray wolves in the western U.S. may hinge on wolves being able to successfully disperse between widely separated populations.”
The paper also points to the Grand Canyon area, all of which is north of Interstate 40, as one of the most suitable areas for additional Mexican gray wolf populations.
Arizona Game and Fish, which helped mold this latest Fish and Wildlife Service proposal, argues there is reason to have a northern boundary.
In short, the idea is that “we want Mexican wolves where Mexican wolves were,” explained Jim DeVos, the assistant director of Arizona Game and Fish overseeing wildlife.
The scientific research describes the wolves as largely having been a creature of Southeastern Arizona, as well as adjacent New Mexico and Mexico, he said. But it would be difficult to draw a line at, say, Mount Ord in the White Mountains and say no wolves should go north of there.
I-40 “is north of the historic range and a logical demarcation for Mexican wolves,” DeVos said. “Why go north when the suitable habitat goes south?”
My question is: Why demarcate the territory at all? Having reintroduced these animals, why not let them do what they obviously do naturally — roam, run into each other, mate and create their own packs and populations?
Related document: http://tucson.com/study-of-wolf-habitat-genetics/pdf_94d895ca-f733-5bde-904f-c756dfefef40.html#.VHsVdsYNFJk.email