Folks, I’m not crying wolf here! As we have been focused on the economic plight of our country, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has quietly and behind closed doors, started laying out a plan to increase the Mexican gray wolf populations in Arizona and the Southwest, with an eye towards increasing “recovery” numbers.
Keep in mind “we” have been working on recovering this species for the last 13 years. The total cost to date is more than $24 Million and rising! Our Arizona Game and Fish Department has invested over $5 Million in the process already. With all this time, money and manpower invested, what’s the result – an estimated population in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (BRWRA) of 50 wolves.
The goal for the BRWRA was for 100 animals, a number by all accounts that has been elusive. For the record, there are varying reports that the estimated population of 50 doesn’t include any wolves that are on the White Mountain and San Carlos Apache Reservations. We don’t know how many wolves exist there. So, with that framework in mind, what is the USFWS up to? You will recall that recent Congressional actions delisting the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies failed to include provisions for delisting of the Mexican gray wolf, the argument being that Arizona had not yet reached its recovery goal of 100 wolves. In response to continuing pressure from enviro-litigants USFWS is now accelerating the “recovery” process while the wolf advocates cheer them on.
At a recent USFWS meeting in New Mexico, those that were invited learned the USFWS is considering the adoption of a new Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Plan. Word is that this plan would “significantly” increase the recovery numbers for the Mexican gray wolf in the four state area of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. This information is very alarming given the fact that the original recovery plan published in March 1998 called for a goal of 100 wolves on the BRWRA which consists of the entire Apache and Gila National Forests in east-central Arizona and west-central New Mexico.
Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife (AZSFW) has learned that USFWS is discussing the possibility of increasing the population to 750 wolves (three meta populations of 250 wolves each) over a four-state area. This includes Arizona,New Mexico and southern portions of Colorado and Utah. This likely means expansion of wolves across much of Arizona! This action coupled with impending release of wolves in Mexico is extremely disturbing, as not only will this likely decimate our Arizona elk and deer populations, it will also impact all recreational users, and likely further complicate the access to our public lands.
The current population of wolves in Arizona are considered experimental under what’s called a 10j rule. This status allows for management of the animals as intended under the original release agreement. If wolves released in Mexico, just happen to cross into the United States, that 10j status is thrown out the window, and the Endangered Species Act will likely trump the prior agreement and open the door for the enviro-litigants to gain traction on wolf proliferation.
AZSFW asked for a seat at the table with USFWS to participate in Mexican gray wolf recovery plan discussions, and they were turned down. USFWS does not want Arizona sportsmen and women to have a voice in this process, so we need to make our voice heard in other ways!
AZSFWC does not believe Arizona’s prey base can sustain this kind of wolf impact. While the locations have not been identified, there is speculation that in addition to the BRWRA, other potential geographic locations might include areas around the Grand Canyon and another in the southern portions of Utah/Colorado. This means, among other things, that an already-declining prized mule deer herd on the Arizona Strip could be put in further peril. And deer on the Kaibab, though rebounding due the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of sportsmen-generated conservation dollars, will be impacted as well.
If you are not concerned, you should be. In 1971, three thousand (3,000) mule deer permits were issued on the Arizona Strip. In 2010, only 180 permits were issued. Why? The declining mule deer population could not support more permits. Adding more wolves to the equation will only further jeopardize the any rebound of this herd. And enviro-litigants will not stop at 750 wolves. You only have to look at recent actions of the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and others, to realize that increasing Mexican gray wolf populations from 100 to 750 will ultimately not satisfy their desire for more and more wolves.
Consider the following facts:
• Idaho, Montana and Wyoming ultimately exceeded their recovery goals of 300 wolves (current estimates show 1,700 wolves distributed among these three states)
• USFWS delisted the wolf in the states of Idaho and Montana under the Bush administration and again under the Obama administration
• The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies passed a resolution calling for wolf delisting
• Congress passed legislation officially delisting the wolf in the Northern Rockies
So in spite of these actions and the successful recovery of the gray wolf, the enviro-litigants continue to challenge the actions in the courts – most recently challenging the constitutionality of Congressional action to delist the gray wolf.
Enviro-litigant actions demonstrate that there objective is not just to save the wolf. The wolf recovery has been very successful in the Northern Rockies and the Great Lakes Region and moderately successful in Arizona/New Mexico. It is a business model for these organizations and they have netted millions of dollars. Their real objective is far more reaching – ultimately they want to stop mixed use (including hunting and public access) on our public lands.
What can you do? Contact our Arizona Congressional Delegation and let them know you are outraged that USFWS is now considering increasing wolf recovery numbers in Arizona. Let them know that they have failed to include Arizona’s strongest voice for wildlife, sportsmen and women out of the process! Finally, let them know you are concerned that years of conservation and wildlife habitat work, not too mention the thousands of dollars spent by sportsmen and women are on the verge of being “thrown to the wolves”.
Be candid, respectful and tactful, but let Senators and Congressmen/woman know how you feel about what is going on here!
Follow this link to let your voice be heard:
Jim Unmacht, President, Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation