For many years there has been an experimental transplant population of Mexican Gray Wolves on the Arizona-New Mexico border. This area is located in the sparsely populated Blue River area, White Mountain Apache Reservation and the Gila wilderness. Just a month ago the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency stated its intention of expanding the wolf population to include the Payson and Pleasant Valley districts of the Tonto National Forest. This is just the beginning of a proposed corridor, which would include all the land south of Interstate 40 and south to Interstate 10 near the Mexican border.
The Blue management area, at the last count which took place in January of this year, has 75 wolves living in this approximate area. As these wolves have been studied, it is recognized that their traveling boundaries of a 60-mile radius in reality may go beyond 200 miles as young males are looking for a mate or in search of food. This no doubt has created sightings of wolves in the Tonto and Coconino National Forests in recent years.
With the proposal and expansion of the Blue Range Recovery Area to include these two districts of the Tonto National Forest, it is possible that wolf sightings in the Rim Country will be far more frequent. The Tonto happens to have one of the highest populations of recreational visitors who fish, camp, hike, bike and hunt, compared to all the other national forests in the country. If the experimental wolf transplants comes to fruition there will be an increased likelihood of human and wolf contact, whether on the trails, along streams or just about anywhere with the known territorial radius of these predators.
The northern Rocky Mountain states of Idaho and Montana have seen a rapidly expanding wolf population that has negatively impacted other wildlife species — namely the trophy herds of elk for which they have been famous. Obviously, adding another predator in the field will impact the Mogollon Rim Country elk population. Thousands of tourists visit the area to photograph and view the elk, especially during the upcoming rut when the woods are alive with bugling bulls looking for a harem of cows.
The fall hunting seasons are just around the corner and the economic impact of in-state and out-of-state hunters to the Payson area in pursuit of the elk is astronomical. Local restaurants, motels, gas stations, sporting goods stores and a multitude of other businesses benefit from this valuable big game resource.
The wolf is a predator and its main source of food is meat from anything it can catch from the smallest mouse to a full-grown elk. If it can be caught, it can be eaten! That creates a wide range of animals in its diet, which has caused a concern in many western states where the wolf has been reintroduced.
This summer, the Apache County Board of Supervisors passed a unanimous Ordinance 2013-07 that the Mexican Gray Wolf had an extremely negative impact on the economies of the small towns along the eastern border. As local elected officials, they voiced their disapproval of the wolf program, which is currently being conducted in their area. As part of the resolution, they adopted county predator management control, which included the experimental wolf in their jurisdiction.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department in conjunction with their board of commissioners are creating a Memorandum of Understanding in the Environmental Impact Study & a Wolf Recovery Draft Plan as a cooperating partner, which would give more state control over that of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its proposed agenda. Hopefully, the right decisions will be made where the temptation to receive more federal grant money is not the deciding factor.
If you have a concern on this issue, you should contact the AZGFD commissioners at azgfd.gov or your U.S. Congressman, Paul Gosar.
To learn more
Gila County rancher Steve Smith will present “The Mexican Grey Wolf in the Western United States” at the Thursday, Sept. 12 Shoot for the Heart program at 6:30 p.m. in building C at Mountain Bible Church, 302 E. Rancho Rd., Payson.
Following the seminar, Smith will remain to answer questions. Dessert will be served and raffle prizes awarded.
Shoot for the Heart was founded to help families who love the outdoors become better hunters and fishermen, and to build relationships with others who share the same emphasis.
For more about Shoot for the Heart, call Mountain Bible Church at (928) 472-7800.
This weekend, take a friend on a hike in Rim Country, God’s creation.