By Tammy Gray
A heated meeting regarding the introduction of Mexican gray wolves south of Interstate 40 highlighted the efforts by the Arizona Game and Fish Department to push the federal government to create a management plan for the wolves.
Winslow City Councilman Marshall Losey reported that the federal plan has no cap on the number of wolves and does not include any sort of plan for managing the population, including attacks on livestock. He noted that, according to information presented at the Oct. 15 meeting, Arizona Game and Fish is working to find a balance between the $28 million federal wolf recovery program and the concerns of local residents.
“I believe they are trying to do the best they can for all of us,” he said. “I believe they are trying to help ranchers as much as possible to manage it.”
Losey noted that the general consensus is that the program cannot be stopped and the wolves are going to be released throughout Arizona, so the best course of action is to try to establish a plan that will limit the population and provide compensation for lost livestock.
“The thought is that there’s going to be a wolf rule one way or the other, so we better get on the right side of this,” he said.
Game and Fish had previously reached an agreement with the Cattleman’s Association for a cap of 100 wolves, but the department has now asked to increase that number to between 300 and 325. According to Losey, Game and Fish officials feel that the federal government will not accept a cap of 100.
“The feds have determined that 100 is not a viable number,” he remarked.
Approximately 35 area residents attended the meeting, which was sponsored by Arizona Game and Fish, and of those around 25 were directly involved in ranching. Some ranchers were opposed to the release of any wolves in the area, while others agreed that the best course of action is to work with the federal government to limit the number of wolves.
“Arizona Game and Fish’s stance is that an unmanaged wolf program will be disastrous. They are looking toward a compensation program for farmers and ranchers,” Losey said. “It’s a matter of trying to manage it rather than buck it.”
The current plan calls for the release of wolves across most of Arizona, including the areas south of Interstate 40 in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is advocating releases to extend across the entire state as a means to ensure recovery,” Losey said.
The Navajo County Board of Supervisors recently sent a letter to the federal agency protesting the lack of cooperation with state and local governments in creating a plan for managing the wolves. The letter notes that although meetings were held with state and local agencies, no real cooperation or input was allowed. Navajo County contends that the agency is not complying with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act by refusing to work with affected government agencies.
“Specifically, to date, the service actions, or lack thereof, do not represent a genuine good faith attempt to develop an agreement, or even to actually work with the state and tribal agencies, local governments and stakeholders,” the letter notes.
Losey noted that the action could have a significant impact on many area residents.
“This is a great concern for many ranchers, farmers and outdoorsmen as an increase in the wolf population could have a significant impact on their livelihood,” he said.
He explained that although there may be little chance of changing the plans for the wolf program, the best hope is to work for changes to the Endangered Species Act, which was passed in 1976.
“I encourage people to contact their Congressmen,” he said.