August 11, 2014
State and federal wildlife managers are at odds over a proposal to expand protected habitat for Mexican Gray Wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. A public hearing on the issue is scheduled for Monday in Pinetop.
Right now the Mexican Gray Wolf habitat stretches roughly from I-40 south to I-10 in Arizona and New Mexico. But, the federal government wants to expand it to millions of acres south of I-10 to the border with Mexico. Sherry Barrett is the Wolf Recovery Coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"We’re also proposing some expansion of those areas where wolves could be released to include the Magdalena District of the Cibola District in New Mexico and the Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona as well as three ranger districts of the Tonto National Forest in Arizona,” Barrett said.
Currently Mexican Gray Wolves can only live in the Gila and Apache National Forests and on the Fort Apache Reservation. When they wander beyond those boundaries they have to be captured and returned to their protected areas. The Arizona Game and Fish Department proposes to expand the wolf habitat too, but it would not be as large an area as described in the federal plan. The state also wants to control how many animals can be released. There’s no federal limit, but Game and Fish Wildlife Director Jim deVos said only 150 of the wolves should live in the wild in our state.
"That’s an important number because it allows us to say when we’ve met success and it also allows us to understand when we’ve reached that point to where we would have wolves that could be sent to Mexico to support their program,” deVos said.
It’s estimated that only five wolves live in the wild in Mexico. deVos said Arizona Game and Fish is upset that the federal government has not fully considered its alternative proposal. He said compromise is possible, but if that doesn’t happen Game and Fish has a few options.
"One is litigation," deVos said. "The second withdrawal from field activities related to the wolf program, and the third is to get congressional involvement to try to help bring about a fair and balanced approach to wolf management."
U.S. Fish and Wildlife will make a final decision on the plan early next year. The wolf reintroduction program started in 1998 and now more than 80 wolves live in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico. The goal is to get their numbers high enough so the animal can be removed from the Endangered Species list.