Friday, August 22, 2014

Wolf rule change draws Greenlee supers’ ire

Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 
The Greenlee County Board of Supervisors is saying it is time to drop back 15 and punt in regard to a proposed expansion of Mexican wolf habitat. That is, county officials and the public in general need more time to read and examine a lengthy document produced by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Service).
If Greenlee District 2 Supervisor Ron Campbell’s words delivered at an Aug. 11 public hearing were translated into football lingo, he basically said the USF&W jumped off sides before the ball was snapped, but no red flags were thrown or penalties assessed. District 2 covers northern Greenlee County, which includes the Blue Wilderness Area, where most of the wolves in Arizona are located.
What it came down to, Campbell said, was interested parties, including the Greenlee Board of Supervisors, other interested agencies and the public had “very little time” to carefully review and absorb the document that proposes a major increase in the wolf habitat area being proposed under a revised USF&WS plan.
He said, “Reading, reviewing and understanding a 460-plus page document as well as over 800 footnotes in the last two weeks in order to write comments seems to be ridiculous.” He added, “Once again (the UF&WS) provides precious little time for the public and agencies to produce substantive comments.” The hearing document has only been available since late July
He requested that the comment period regarding the document be extended to allow for more time to more closely review and gain a better understanding of the proposed changes in the draft Environmental Impact Statement proposed rule 10j change. “Greenlee County requests that the Service consider, at a minimum, extending the comment period by at least 90 days,” Campbell said. “We also request that the Service conduct a ‘real’ review of the alternative presented as well as a consistency review as requested by the counties.”
Campbell said that to him, the Service is attempting to jump the gun, despite previous plans, understandings and agreements made with the Service and parties affected by the wolf program, Campbell said that in the Greenlee Board of Supervisors’ “very preliminary review, it is evident that the Service ignored this broadly supported plan.”
He said, “When the Service initially published its intent last summer, a number of groups including the Arizona Cattle Growers, Eastern Arizona counties, sportsmen’s groups and the Arizona Game and Fish Commission worked to produce an alternative that could be broadly supported in making a substantial contribution to the recovery of the Mexican Wolf while providing reasonable and very defined methods of managing wolves.” Campbell said, “This definitely proves the point that the Service had no intention of considering any alternative other than the one it presented last year as the preferred one.”
Were it a game of football, the supervisor said, the Service acted like an offensive team that disregards the rules. It does not even bother calling signals, jumps off sides before the ball is snapped and heads down the field with the attitude that only its actions and interpretation of the rules are what count. Neither does it expect to be penalized for its actions. “Unlike football, this is no game,” Campbell said. “This is for real. Many people’s lives and livelihoods are being affected by the Service’s actions.
The proposed change would greatly increase the Mexican wolf’s current designated habitat from Greenlee County, and Catron County in neighboring New Mexico, all of the way to the U.S.- Mexico border. The revised habitat map involves a corridor that includes areas around Interstate 40 in northern Arizona to I-10 in southern Arizona and on to the international boundary.
Campbell was adamant that “The bottom line is Fish & Wildlife and other proponents of a greatly increased wolf habitat area, and a large increase in the wolf population, want to establish what some of us are referring to as ‘the I-40, I-10 corridor.’ The apparent thinking behind that is it would establish a corridor for the wolves to migrate from northern Arizona all the way down to Mexico, where they originated but are now extinct.” He said the largest wolf populations are located primarily in Greenlee County and western New Mexico. At present, 83 wolves are in wild in Arizona and New Mexico.
The supervisor said he does not see the introduction of wolf pack to Prescott, Flagstaff and other areas in northern Arizona as being well received. The same applies for southern Arizona, which would involve areas around Willcox, Benson and other areas located along the way to the Mexican border. “It’s hard to figure out what some of these people are thinking,” Campbell said in reference to the Fish & Wildlife Service and other wolf program supporters. “I believe five or six wolves were transplanted to Mexico in recent years and every one of them was shot or somehow killed. I don’t see there being any strong environmental or ecological movements currently existing in Mexico. At least not along its borders with Arizona and New Mexico. Unlike here, I doubt the wolves would have much, if any, protection from humans.”
Campbell pointed out that Greenlee County has been at the forefront and “ground zero” of the wolf reintroduction program for the past three decades. The Mexican wolf program was initiated in Greenlee County in 1998. It had been in the planning stages well before that.

The Greenlee Board of Supervisors has since its inception opposed the Mexican wolf reintroduction plan and the animals’ presence in Greenlee. The wolves’ primary habitat in Arizona is in the Blue Wilderness Area in northeastern Greenlee. Greenlee’s other two supervisors, Chairman David Gomez, District 1-Clifton, and Robert Corbell, District 3-Duncan, also strongly oppose the Mexican wolf’s presence. “Everyone here knows that we have been at the table to make sure that the voice of Greenlee County residents, in particular our ranching community, was heard,” Campbell said. “We have been consistent with our view of the program. We have worked with the Service at every level to make sure that they never misunderstood our position.”
He said that when the first wolves were released 15 years ago, Greenlee County warned the Service at that time that it had not addressed the social and economic components of the project. It did nothing to encourage social tolerance by enacting a management plan that addressed or funded those issues, including financial losses to ranchers as well as interaction with communities in the primary recovery zone. “These issues were ignored and dealt with as an afterthought. Now, the Service is proposing to increase the area,” Campbell said. “You will no longer be dealing with a couple of very small counties that, standing alone, did not have political clout.

The Service has an opportunity to not make the same mistakes made in 1998, however, the actions over the past year or so show that the Service does not intend to learn from its past mistakes. The Service intends to continue down a course that shows its arrogance and complete disregard toward the affected communities.  “Once again, we request you reconsider the deadline for the comments. We will be asking for congressional action as well as considering all of our options including potential litigation.”
He acknowledged there could be a positive to the expansion of wolf habitat, if the area was expanded and wolves allowed to disperse, then the impact would be less on ranchers in Greenlee County.
Campbell emphasized in an interview with The Copper Era that the Greenlee board does not favor an increase in the wolves’ population beyond 100.