Sunday, February 12, 2012

Wolf numbers gain some ground--a commentary

February 12, 2012 |
Success. Howling good success.

The latest figures show the population of endangered Mexican wolves has increased by eight animals, bringing the total counted to 58. There could be others.

Sure, that is far fewer than were anticipated to be on the ground at this point in the recovery effort. And, yes, there have been too many wolves removed -- some lethally -- from the wildlands in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. And, yes again, there continues to be controversy.

Environmentalists want new wolves added to the program from captive populations. The Arizona Game and Fish Commission wants a new recovery plan to be completed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before additional wolves are reintroduced.

The commission agreed only to new releases to replace any wolves that are lost to poaching or from other causes. Arizona is a partner with U.S. Fish and Wildlife on the wolf-recovery project.

Fish and Wildlife says that the new recovery plan could take two years to finish and that new releases are important to enhance genetic diversity. The federal agency will "coordinate closely with our partners this year for these releases," Fish and Wildlife's Charna Lefton said by e-mail.

In addition, some ranchers also remain uncomfortable with the program, though continued efforts are being made to satisfy their concerns through compensation and other means.

But set the controversy aside. Take a moment to enjoy the happy news. The wolf numbers are increasing despite the odds. One pack's breeding female was killed by lightning, but another female in the pack successfully raised her pups, says Jim Paxon of Game and Fish. Last year's Wallow Fire burned through the denning areas of three packs. But the population went up.

More than 90 percent of the wolves on the ground today were born in the wild.

This is wonderful news for Arizonans who have long supported the effort to reintroduce this top predator to the ecosystem.