PHOENIX - Each Sunday, ABC15.com debuts an Arizona issue - along with two opposing sides on the topic.
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This week we're tackling the debate on whether or not the future of the Mexican gray wolf, or the lobo as it is called, should be left in the hands of state governments or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The lobo is a creature that was hunted to the brink of extinction by western settlers during the 1800s and early 1900s. It posed a threat to cattle, and ranchers were fed up. By the 1970s, no Mexican gray wolves existed in the wild in Arizona or neighboring New Mexico.
The lobo was put on the endangered species list and along with federal protection, a recovery program began. In 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bred wolves captured in Mexico and eventually released their offspring into the Blue Ridge Recovery area in Arizona's White Mountains.
Now there are more than 50 wild Mexican gray wolves roaming Arizona and New Mexico. As the population grows closer to the original goal of 100 individuals, should the federal government de-list the lobo and hand control of the recovery efforts to the states?
Eva Sargent, Southwest program director and wolf expert for Defenders of Wildlife, argues that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has and continues to be a vital partner in the recovery efforts of the Mexican Gray Wolf. She calls out lawmakers for attempting to defund the recovery program at the federal level. According to Sargent, people are the biggest threat to the lobo.
Patrick Bray is the Executive Vice President of the Arizona Cattle Grower's Association. He argues the program should be managed by state partners like the Arizona Department of Game and Fish, saying that once the original recovery goal of 100 wild wolves is reached, the federal government should de-list the lobo from the endangered species list.
So, what seems to be the answer?
Click "next page" to read the first of two positions, "How can we better coexist with them?".
"how can we better coexist with them?": By Eva Sargent, Southwest program director and wolf expert for Defenders of Wildlife
Wolves aren't soft and cuddly. It's true. They're not like our pet dogs. And even though they share almost all of their genes with Fido, they certainly belong more in the wild than in your living room. But these magnificent mammals aren't the toothy villains found in fairytales, either. They tend to keep a safe distance from people – preying mainly on elk and deer, like any other large predator. And they play a vital role in maintaining the balance of nature.
In the Southwest, the Mexican gray wolf, or the lobo, is highly endangered. A small population of around just 50 Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico is all that's left of wild lobos in the entire world. From the late-1800s through the mid-1900s, Mexican gray wolves were routinely hunted down and killed, even tortured. By the early 1970s, they were nearly driven to extinction.
The last hope for the lobo's survival hinged on a few wolves captured in Mexico between 1977 and 1980 and bred in captivity. In 1998, when the only Mexican gray wolves left were in zoos and breeding centers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released 11 descendants of those last lobos into the wild. Since then, they've done what wolves do: They've established packs, raised pups and hunted prey. Although their numbers have slowly grown, lobos are still in trouble.
The problem seems to be people. The Fish and Wildlife Service reports that 37 wolves have died from illegal shootings, a dozen have been struck by vehicles and two more died in traps set for other animals. Worse yet, politicians are now taking aim at endangered lobos. U.S. Representative Steve Pearce has repeatedly tried to defund the Mexican wolf recovery program, relying on laughably false information about the dangers wolves pose to justify his case. And New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez has joined Pearce's three-ring circus, allowing her state's wildlife agency to walk away from the recovery effort.
Despite all this, there are signs of hope. The Fish and Wildlife Service is working on releasing more wolves into the wild, adding genetic diversity to strengthen the population. And it also has assembled a team of scientists and stakeholders – including conservationists, livestock interests and tribes – who are at work on a new recovery plan to help grow wolf numbers in the Southwest.
It's a good thing, too. Biologists are just beginning to understand how important wolves and other top predators are to maintaining balance in nature. Wolves are nature's wildlife managers, and they are a key to the healthy lands enjoyed by hunters, backpackers and birdwatchers alike. Research shows that wolves in Yellowstone have had a positive effect on the environment. They have discouraged elk from over indulging on young aspen saplings near streams and rivers. Allowed to grow, these trees now provide habitat for birds and their roots control soil erosion along the riverbanks, improving water quality and biodiversity. In addition, a strong wildlife-watching tourism industry has sprung up around Yellowstone's wolves. Experts believe that when Mexican gray wolves return to healthy numbers they will bring the same benefits to the Southwest's wild lands.
Fortunately, most residents of the Southwest are able to see through the nonsense and are willing to share our public lands with lobos. Indeed, a 2008 poll showed that 77 percent of Arizonans supported the Mexican wolf recovery effort. And while the wolf continues its path toward recovery, Defenders of Wildlife, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department continue to work alongside ranchers, using proven techniques like range riders and fladry – brightly colored flags tied to fences that frighten wolves – to decrease conflicts between livestock and lobos. For many of us in the West, it's no longer a question of whether we have wolves or no wolves, but rather how can we better coexist with them. And that's good news for both wolves and people.
Do you agree with this opinion? Add a comment below to sound off.
Click "next page" to read the second position, "Federal agency hindering success of Mexican gray wolf"
"Federal agency hindering success of Mexican gray wolf": By Patrick Bray, Executive Vice President of Arizona Cattle Growers' Association
In 1998, the howl of an 80 pound top-of-the-food-chain predator broke the silence of the night in a remote area of Arizona. Under the watch of a full moon, all of God's creatures paused as they knew their landscape would be changed forever. Thirteen years later, the Mexican Wolf continues to be under close scrutiny from the public, government agencies, and politicos across the United States. During the same time frame the wolf has managed to survive a mountain of bureaucratic red tape and endless lawsuits to sustain a population of 40-60 wolves on the landscape known as the Blue Range Wolf Reintroduction Area.
Those that have been working on wolf issues for a few decades could say that we have had some great successes in the road to recovering the wolf. On the other hand, this same group of people would tell you that we have a long way to go and unfortunately the tolerance of the public that lives and works with the wolf on a daily basis is quickly fading. Frustration amongst stakeholders and agencies has grown. This was evident in 2005 when the 5 year review was completed - 7 years after the program began.
Furthermore, three recovery teams have convened since the initial 1982 Recovery Plan, an outdated plan which is still enforced today. Unfortunately, none of the Recovery Teams recommendations have come to fruition but we are crossing our fingers that the third time is the charm.
Just recently, we have seen delisting mandates directed from Congress due to the US Fish and Wildlife Service being bogged down by process and environmental litigants who have done everything in their power to stop delisting efforts. As the southwest stakeholders have watched this drama unfold we are left wondering, if we reach the original goal of 100 wolves on our landscape, will it take an act of Congress to allow our state agency, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, to manage our wolf population? In fact, it became apparent to us after a decision in 2007 that our state agency was more qualified and responsive in making the recovery program work than the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The program took a devastating blow in 2007 when a lawsuit filed in Tucson completely dismantled the Adaptive Management Oversight Committee. Since that time, the program has been in limbo leaving everyone wondering, where is this program headed and is there an end in sight? Communication and trust of the US Fish and Wildlife Service has and continues to deteriorate leaving stakeholders and other agencies charged with working on the wolf, baffled by what to do. This breakdown since 2007 is evident by the recent action of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, which has completely removed themselves as a partner in the program. The Arizona Game and Fish Department and other interested parties including cattlemen, sportsmen, and local governments in Arizona continue to stick it out, hoping for a workable solution. All the while it would appear that the federal agency charged with recovering this species has done the most to hinder the success of the Mexican Wolf.
Do you agree with this opinion? Add a comment below to sound off.