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Guest Column: Delay Means Extinction for Wolves

The Daily Courier, Dennis DuVall, December 31, 2013

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Think of hiking on the Prescott Circle Trail and seeing a wolf. For a hiker this would probably be a thrilling and rewarding outdoors experience. But The Daily Courier considers an opportunity like this "ludicrous" (Editorial: "Reintroducing wolves is an unworkable plan," Dec. 4, 2013).

Local public officials do not want Mexican wolves roaming around Yavapai County either. In an Aug. 1, 2013, letter to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors opposes expanding the Mexican gray wolf recovery area as a "serious threat" to ranching, hunting and outdoor recreation. The supervisors contend the Mexican wolf has recovered and does not warrant federal protection.

Others believe the Mexican lobo, the world's most endangered wolf, desperately needs our help to regain its rightful place in the natural ecosystem. To make this happen, FWS proposes to restore the wolf to its historic range and to list the Mexican wolf as an essential sub-species of the gray wolf with federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

In its letter to FWS, the Yavapai Supervisors embrace the special interests of ranchers by citing figures from "Mexican Wolf Recovery," an undated, unscientific and poorly written report by Jess Carey, a self-described "Wolf Interaction Investigator" from New Mexico's Catron County known for its open hostility to wolf reintroduction. From the chapter "How Much Do Family Ranchers Loose [sic] to Mexican Wolves?" the supervisors' letter quotes a total of 651 head of cattle lost to wolf depredation at five ranches in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in Catron County. The supervisors tell FWS they do not want to see this "collateral damage to achieve Mexican Wolf Recovery in Yavapai County."

In the Carey report, it is impossible to tell which year or years the cattle loss figure of 651 refers to or how it was arrived at. The figure of 651 does appear to be highly inflated since the Cattle Death Loss from wolf depredation compiled by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is 238 for the entire state of New Mexico in 2011. According to NASS, in 2011 wolf depredation represents 2.4 percent of total cattle deaths compared to 27.6 percent from dog and coyote depredation. In public comment to FWS, Prescott resident and retired judge Ralph Hess also points out the Carey report "fails to analyze the impact of the [wolf] Recovery Program on domestic livestock clearly and accurately. I find the (NASS) analysis to be more comprehensive and reliable."

The Yavapai Supervisors urge FWS to let Arizona Game & Fish "implement effective wolf management procedures" because "We do not wish to have (sportsmen's) activities and our economy put in jeopardy because of the Mexican Wolves' habitat." At the state level, "wildlife management" means guaranteeing a reliable supply of game animals for hunters to "harvest." States view wolves not as game and not as wildlife, but as competitors for the animals preferred by hunters, namely deer and elk. In the Arizona Republic, John Koleszar, vice president of the Arizona Deer Association, complains there are already too few hunting opportunities: "You're telling me you want to put another top-line predator all along the Mogollon Rim?"

Contrary to the supervisors' contention that Mexican wolves "have recovered efficiently [sic]", only 75 lobos have recovered toward a target population of 100 set in 1982. FWS has yet to adopt the 2005 recommendation of the Mexican wolf recovery planning team of 750 wolves as the population goal of successful recovery. This requires the release of more breeding pairs of Mexican wolves into the wild from 300 still at captive breeding sites and establishing at least three core populations able to disperse into suitable habitat throughout their historic range between the Grand Canyon and Mexico.

Time is running out for Mexican gray wolves when delay means extinction. FWS is ignoring the recovery team's best science, while in the wild wolves are threatened by illegal killing, legal killing by ranchers and Wildlife Services, lack of genetic diversity, and capturing and relocating wolves straying outside arbitrary boundaries. Helping to return Mexican wolves to the wildlife community faces fierce opposition from public-land ranchers, hunters and local and state public officials.

Between hysterical lobophobia and special interest politics, seeing a lobo on the trail may be a long time coming.

Dennis DuVall, a Prescott resident, offered public comment at both the Yavapai County Board of Supervisor's meeting on Aug. 1, 2013, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife hearing in Pinetop on Dec. 3, 2013.

This Guest Column was published in The Daily Courier on December 31, 2013.

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PLEASE TAKE ACTION FOR MEXICAN WOLVES!

You can help ensure the future of the lobo by writing a letter to the Editor of The Daily Courier here.

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

Below are a few suggestions for ensuring your message gets through clearly-your letter will be most effective if you focus on a few key points, so don’t try to use all of these.  If you need additional help or want someone to review your letter before you send it, email it to info@mexicanwolves.org.

Start by thanking paper for publishing this article. This makes your letter immediately relevant and increases its chances of being published.

Express your support of wolves and stress that the majority of Arizona residents support wolves and understand their importance.  Polling done by Research and Polling, Inc. found 77 percent of Arizona respondents support the reintroduction of Mexican gray wolves.  The poll also showed strong majority support for giving wolves greater protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The Fish and Wildlife Service should increase protections for these wolves, and expedite the Mexican gray wolf recovery planning process.  The current recovery plan was developed in 1982 and is extremely outdated.  The 1982 plan does not discuss genetics, which has proven to be a critical element in population health.  A draft recovery plan to replace the outdated 1982 plan has been developed but politics has stalled the recovery planning process.  The draft recovery plan should be put out for public comment.

There is plenty of room for many more wolves to be released.  The Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area comprises 4.4 million acres (twice the size of Yellowstone National Park), which support an extraordinary array of wildlife and vegetation types.  The Fish and Wildlife Service is using the mere presence of livestock as a justification not to release wolves into a wider range of the available area in Arizona, and has refused to change the rule that arbitrarily excludes new wolves from being released directly into New Mexico.

Additional populations of Mexican wolves are necessary to their recovery and genetic health, as is the ability for wolves to move between populations.  More Mexican wolves are desperately needed to strengthen the wild population’s genetics and increase their numbers.  There are many more Mexican wolves languishing in captive facilities right now that could be released.  The USFWS should expedite the releases of these eligible wolves.

Describe the ecological benefits of wolves to entire ecosystems and all wildlife.  Wildlife biologists believe that Mexican wolves will improve the overall health of the Southwest and its rivers and streams – just as the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone has helped restore balance to its lands and waters.  Science has repeatedly demonstrated that wolves are keystone carnivores who help to keep wildlife like elk and deer healthy and bring balance to the lands they inhabit.

Talk about your personal connection to wolves and why the issue is important to you.  If you’re a grandmother wanting your grandchildren to have the opportunity to hear wolves in the wild, or a hunter who recognizes that wolves make game herds healthier, or a businessperson who knows that wolves have brought millions in ecotourism dollars to Yellowstone, say so.

Keep your letter brief, between 150-200 words.

Provide your name, address, occupation, and phone number; your full address, occupation, and phone number will not be published, but they are required in order to have your letter published.

Submit your letter to the Editor of The Daily Courier here.

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You can also call on US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, and NM Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, to ensure development of a science based recovery plan for the Mexican gray wolf.  CLICK HERE for more background information, talking points, and contact info.

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Photo credit: Amber Legras