I sat in amazement with 200 other attendees at the AZGFD information meeting on the proposed U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service expansion of the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program. When the recovery program was first established via a bill passed by the U.S. Congress in 1998, the goal was to designate an area in far eastern Arizona and western New Mexico where up to 100 Mexican gray wolves would be established. The cost of the program at that time was projected to be $7 million.
Fast forward to 2013, currently there are estimated to be 75-85 wild wolves in the program and another 250-300 in captivity. So the service and the Wolf Recovery Program are about to meet their 1998 charter. However, now the service wants to modify the law and expand the area where wolves will roam to include the entire area of the state, east to west and from I-40 to I-10. It was confirmed during the meeting, that there is no upper limit for the number of wolves in the new expanded program.
Also, the costs of this program since implemented are varied. AZGFD stated the costs over the past decade are $29 million, however there are other documented sources that put the number closer to $45 million to $50 million. A USA Today article from a couple of months ago reported that the U.S. government has spent over $102 million on the wolf recovery programs in the United States.
Now the bad news. Statistics show that on average, one wolf will kill and consume one elk, deer, goat, sheep or livestock per week. So in just one year, a single wolf will remove 52 large hoofed animals from Arizona herds or rancher’s livestock. Without exception, every state with established wolf packs has experienced drastic reductions of wildlife herds of elk, deer, goats and sheep. The annual elk survey of the Yellowstone National Park elk herd after wolves were introduced, from 1995 until this year conducted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, has determined the elk herd has gone from 21,000 animals to under 4,000.
This also is causing economic impacts to states and communities since fewer hunting permits are issued. Fish & Game departments that receive a large portion of their annual funding from hunting license sales are reducing programs and staff due to these decreased sales. Hunters no longer drive to small communities during hunts, exacerbating lower sales dollars and taxes in these already slow-growth communities. In some states, rural communities where wolf packs are established have built enclosed caged bus stops so children can be protected while waiting for a school bus.
Arizona, and specifically Rim Country, is about to follow this same process if the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program is approved. Due to the recent increase in number of comments, the service has extended the public comment period on this topic until Oct. 28. Our request of Rim Country residents is three-fold:
1) The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has agreed to conduct one meeting on this topic in the state of Arizona. Three other meetings to determine the fate of Arizona’s forests have been schedule outside Arizona. This one meeting has yet to be scheduled so we don’t know where or when it will happen, but we need a huge turnout for that meeting to clearly demonstrate to the service our feelings on this topic.
2) We urge you to complete a comment to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at www.regulations.gov, type in Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery to open this specific comment section.
3) We encourage you to contact our town mayors, county supervisors, state representatives, the governor and congressional representatives requesting them to take action to stop the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program expansion.