The commission holds meetings at various places around the state and the latest one was at the new Springerville council room on Sept. 4. The meeting was broadcast for the public in Phoenix and Flagstaff.
Gowan told the commission he approved of holding meetings around the state and not “just the mighty kingdom of Phoenix.” On the issue of wolves, he noted, “I also appreciate the filing of the lawsuit against the wolf program in June. I approve of our sovereignty and agree with it for Arizona. The feds are bureaucrats trying to run our state. Where is the constitutionality of rules by the federal government? We want to live the way we want to live. That’s why we have 50 states. I want these issues voted on locally, not by people 2,500 miles away. “I am in talks with the speaker of the house in New Mexico and am taking a trip there to discuss the wolf and land grab issues. We want to work together to combat the wolf issue,” Gowan added.
In his briefing on the wolf program that he oversees in Navajo and Apache counties, Bagnoli said there were at least two known packs of wolves on the White Mountain Apache reservation, 10 packs in New Mexico and 11 packs in Arizona. Each pack has about five to seven wolves. “Our three priorities are establishing a wolf population, documenting of the wolf populations and conflicts between wolves and humans,” Bagnoli said. “We count the wolves in January each year and get ready for that in November. We contact local property owners to get their data and capture wolves for collaring.”
Bagnoli also told the commission ranchers had been directly impacted through losses of livestock and that there are some threats to hunters and other humans, though he said they didn’t have any recorded attacks on humans by the wolves. One person in the audience disputed that saying he had a close call with wolves. “One of our challenges is there are more areas for interactions with the introduction of more wolves,” Bagnoli said. “Livestock depredations will continue to happen and we are working on the problem. We have fewer depredations in Arizona then they do in New Mexico, partly because they have year-round grazing there. Most of the issues occur from newly released into the wild wolves.”
Commissioner Jim Zieler, who lives in St. Johns, said he had asked for this meeting to be held here because this area is the most affected by wolves in the state. “Congress has the power to federalize what we do,” he said. “The government created the Endangered Species Act in 1972 which is federal control of all species. It’s important to maintain relationships with the people on the ground. We succeed or fail because of the people.”
Carol Clark, a representative of the Gila County Growers Association, told the commission there had been no public input into the proposed release sites for new wolves. The areas proposed will have more human/wolf interactions, she said. “Why release wolves in northern Arizona at all?” she asked.
Seven people supporting the wolves spoke at the meeting. Most of them did not live in the area. One man asked the commission to reverse the decision made last month to not release captured adult wolves into the wild. Game and Fish will be using the cross-fostering of pups system.
Billie Hughes, a member of the White Mountain Conservation League, said she is an Arizona native who hunts and fishes the area and has never heard a wolf howl. She believes they belong here.
Dorothy Inman, a member of TRACKS, said she would like to see the wolves expand and believes they are important for local tourism.
A woman from Las Cruces, N.M., said she has seen 45 wolves in the wild and is disappointed with the decision to not release more adult wolves.
Those speaking against more wolves included Gerald Scott and Wink Crigler of the X Diamond Ranch in Eagar. Scott stated they had cattle and try to live with the wolves but if more wolves were added, they wouldn’t be able to survive. He also brought up the genetic diversity issue and how it can’t be proven that they are diverse when the wolf population started from only 11.
Crigler read a statement: “May I again take this moment to reiterate my heartfelt opposition to the department’s Mexican wolf population expansion plan. And I quote: ‘What we’ve learned from history is that we haven’t learned.’ “The impending threat of more unmanaged predators and a presence with little or no compassion for the cultural heritage and for the capacity of rural/community/family stability will result in the irreplaceable loss of empirical knowledge that has been the historical key to conservation ... Not knowing the impact of increased predator populations, agencies are flirting with the loss of cultural diversity, natural heritage, historic sites and the number one enemy of wildlife populations, habitat loss and fragmentation.”
Barbara Marks said her husband’s family has been on the same ranch for 124 years and wants no more wolf releases. “Funding for depredations hasn’t increased, but the numbers of wolves and territory has,” she said.
Chairman Kurt Davis agreed public meetings that should happen haven’t and the commission plays one role of many. He read a statement into the record. Excerpts of that statement include:
“There is a lack of information, input opportunities and transparency by the recovery lead, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ... My personal view is that in the absence of information and the opportunity for feedback being provided by Fish and Wildlife, the residents in the area were left to draw their own conclusions on what was occurring. This is fundamentally wrong and creates an environment where achieving a fruitful and transparent balance ... gets lost in translation and instead creates and environment of distrust, instability, frustration and misinformation ...
“The commission is directing the department to work with the Fish and Wildlife to implement the following communication and transparency enhancements. The commission is also clearly stating that these changes are necessary for there to be a continuation of a cooperative relationship between our agency and the service.”
Davis listed five enhancements that included an overarching management plan to guide the implementation of the new 10j rule, create a specific public process policy to notify and receive comment from stakeholders, potential impacted citizens and their local governments of any major actions to be taken by the USFWS,.
It also called for allowing a minimum of 30 days to proposed actions through public meetings in the impacted areas and developing an annual work plan that outlines key actions such as identification of release sites and dates for these actions. Any decisions on releases will be made public no less than 30 days before the release is planned and would involve public meetings and comments in the impacted area.
The plan also called for maintaining all documents, decisions, communications for the wolf program on a web page specific location for the public and working with USFWS to create a monthly public information newsletter.
In other action, special recognition was given to Bill and Barbara Marks who have a ranch down on the Blue, an area near Alpine. They were honored for their work on the ranch.
The commission’s meeting lasted all day and on the next day and included a tour of the PS Ranch Wildlife Area, south of Eagar.