Arizona concerned with wolf plan
by Arizona Game & Fish
August 24, 2014
The Arizona Game and Fish Commission voted last Friday to take several actions related to Mexican wolf conservation in light of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) recent release of the draft Environmental Impact Statement (dEIS) on proposed rule revisions that govern Mexican wolf recovery.
The commission directed the Arizona Game and Fish Department to continue working with the Service to develop a rule that protects all state trust wildlife species and includes key elements of the Arizona Cooperator’s Mexican wolf conservation alternative. The department also was directed to develop a full range of options for the commission to consider including congressional involvement, litigation or withdrawal from the Mexican wolf reintroduction effort if a rule cannot be developed that is acceptable to the department.
The commission expressed concern at the absence from the dEIS of the Arizona Cooperator’s Alternative that was developed by 28 cooperating agencies and stakeholders and submitted to the Service for consideration. This scientifically-based alternative supported further cooperation between federal and state agencies and stakeholders to achieve a self-sustaining wolf population.
"As the chair of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, I’m profoundly disappointed that the Service failed to include the Arizona Cooperator’s Alternative in the dEIS. This alternative does exactly what the Endangered Species Act requires the agencies to do: It allows the Mexican wolf population in the southwest to expand using sound science and contribute to the recovery of the subspecies, while also recognizing that recovery cannot be accomplished in Arizona and New Mexico alone," said Robert Mansell. "Most importantly though, the alternative provides the Service with a management approach that balances the need for expanded Mexican wolf reintroduction areas with social tolerance of those most affected by the program."
The cooperators’ alternative included:
• Allowing up to triple the target number of Mexican wolves in the Southwest from the 1982 recovery plan’s goal of not less than 100 wolves to achieve a self-sustaining population.
• More than a 900 percent expansion (11 million acres) of the area in Arizona where wolves can be released and where they can disperse and establish territories.
• Establishing a connectivity corridor for wolves to disperse to the subspecies’ core historical range in Mexico.
• Recognition of the importance of Mexico as a primary element to successful Mexican wolf recovery.
"The biology of wolf repatriation has been relatively easy. The greatest challenge has been to develop social tolerance for the program," said Mansell. "Without social tolerance, Mexican wolf recovery will never achieve full success."
Until the more than 30-year-old recovery plan for Mexican wolves is updated by the Service, this 10(j) rule will provide interim guidance for managing the program.
The Service will accept written comments on the proposed rule and DEIS through Sept. 23, 2014. Those interested in submitting comments should submit comments to the Service; see www.fws.gov/southwest/es/mexicanwolf/ for instructions on how to submit comments.
The department supports the proposal to delist gray wolves in the U.S. and list the Mexican wolf as an endangered subspecies of gray wolf because it recognizes that the Mexican wolf still faces conservation challenges and warrants continued protection and management. The department has multiple concerns with the proposed revision to the Mexican wolf’s 10(j) nonessential experimental population rule.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department and Commission have been supportive and actively involved in Mexican wolf conservation since before the first wolves were released in 1998. Department biologists lead daily field work to guide the reintroduction of Mexican wolves. These biologists also live in the communities most affected by the program, providing them with a unique on-the-ground perspective. The 2013 year-end population count showed a minimum of 83 wolves roaming Arizona and New Mexico, up from 75 wolves in 2012. This is the third consecutive year that the Mexican wolf population has experienced more than a 10 percent population increase.