Posted: Tuesday, May 3, 2016
ALBUQUERQUE — Two U.S. senators from the West want state wildlife authorities and ranchers to have more say in how the federal government manages endangered Mexican gray wolves. Arizona Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake have introduced legislation that would push the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work more closely with states to revamp a decadesold recovery plan for the wolves.
If the agency fails, the legislation includes language that would allow states to step in.
“This is an important issue to Arizona,” Flake said in a statement. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to consider the effect the Mexican gray wolf population has on the people of Arizona and our economy when revising the outdated recovery plan.”
Flake and McCain argue that tens of millions of dollars have been spent on reintroducing wolves in Arizona and New Mexico over nearly two decades and the population is still struggling.
The legislation comes as federal wildlife managers consider expanding the wolf’s range and as landowners and some local elected leaders in the West push back against what they describe as overreach by the federal government and the trampling of private property and water rights.
The fate of the legislation is uncertain but some opponents are concerned the proposal could end up as an amendment and slipped into an unrelated appropriations bill.
There was a similar fight over the delisting of northern gray wolves in Wyoming and other states last year.
Environmentalists argue the legislation is a political ploy rather than an effort to move the wolf recovery program forward.
Drew Caputo, the vice president of litigation for the environmental group Earthjustice, suggested the failure of the Fish and Wildlife Service to revamp the wolf recovery plan over the past three decades stems from federal officials catering to states and the states bowing to a narrow band of ranching and hunting interests.
“They’re not following the science and the law and instead are buckling under to the state politics,” Caputo said. “I think there’s a growing recognition that these sort of political-based bills are bad policy and they’re not passing.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service recently agreed as part of a legal settlement with environmentalists to have a recovery plan crafted by the end of 2017.
Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman John Bradley said the agency appreciates the senators’ interest in the wolf and that the goal remains the recovery of the species through growing the population, improving genetics and eventually transferring management back to the states.
Bradley said the proposed legislation is under review.
New Mexico wildlife officials said the legislation appears to be something that the state could support. Just last month, the state Game and Fish Department announced its intent to sue the federal agency over plans to release more wolves into the wild. The state contends the Endangered Species Act requires cooperation with states when working to recover threatened and endangered species.