Gov. Jan Brewer this week vetoed a bill sponsored by Rim Country representatives that attempted to negate federal control over the reintroduction of Mexican gray wolves in the state.
SB 1211 sponsored by Sen. Chester Crandell (R-Heber) and supported by both Rep. Brenda Barton (R-Payson) and Rep Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff) would have allowed ranchers and state officials to destroy any of the introduced wolves killing livestock or threatening humans and set aside other key provisions of federal control over the reintroduction project. A companion bill, SB 1212, would have set aside $250,000 to cover legal fees likely necessary to defend the bill — but that measure never made it out of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The Legislature also approved SCR1006, a letter to Congress saying that the Legislature opposes any expansion in the program in Arizona “unless and until it has been determined that wolves cannot be introduced successfully in northern Mexico.” That resolution doesn’t require the governor’s signature, but also doesn’t have a legal effect or change any laws.
The governor also vetoed HB 2699, which would have required the Arizona State Land Department to negotiate land agreements with private landowners that would compensate them for any decrease in their property values as a result of the federal wolf reintroduction program.
She said the bill included no money to pay such potential damages and that the state cannot compel the federal government to compensate landowners.
Meanwhile, in other developments concerning the wolves, a group of 28 agencies including Arizona Game and Fish have urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to dramatically reduce the area in which it either introduces wolves or lets them roam. USFWS has proposed letting the wolves roam across the state between I-10 and I-40. The alternative proposal would keep the wolves contained east of Highway 87.
The flurry of bills trying to curtail the reintroduction provoked Gov. Brewer’s vetoes this week.
She cited her reasons for vetoing SB 1211, which she said was “unnecessary” and in conflict with federal law.
“The bill would have directed the Arizona Department of Agriculture to engage in an issue that is being properly managed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The legislation also attempted to manage the Mexican wolf like other protected predators such as mountain lions and bears. A state simply does not have the power to allow a take (killing) on federal lands.”
Game and Fish has the legal authority to hunt down bears or mountain lions or other predators thought to pose a threat to humans.
After a series of bear attacks in Rim Country campgrounds two years ago, hunters used hounds to hunt down and kill several bears — although investigators concluded later the bears that were killed probably weren’t involved in the attacks. However, the rules protecting the endangered wolves are more stringent — requiring stronger proof they’ve killed cattle or threatened humans. The federal rules do allow people to protect themselves if attacked by wolves and allow anyone to kill the wolves in defense of human life — but not pets or cattle.
The bill would have given ranchers and state officials broader authority than the federal rules to kill the endangered wolves if they attack livestock and pets. The bill would have also allowed Game and Fish officials to hunt down wolves documented to have killed livestock.
The federal rules already provide for compensation to ranchers who lose livestock and federal biologists will track down and remove wolves that kill livestock. Sometimes, they kill the wolves — sometimes they recapture them and return them to the captive breeding program that supplied the wolves released into a reintroduction area on the border of Arizona and New Mexico near Alpine. After more than a decade of effort, the population has grown to about 83 wolves and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to expand the recovery area to include about two-thirds of Arizona — including most of Rim Country.
One of the other co-sponsors of the legislation warned that the prey base of the wolves in the expanded recovery area would include “pets and our children” although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it has no record of Mexican gray wolves ever attacking people. Gray wolves have attacked people, but cases remain rare.
The Arizona Game and Fish Commission this week voted to support an alternative recovery plan endorsed by 28 other agencies and stakeholders, in hopes of influencing the proposed expansion of the recovery range.
The USFWS says the current recovery area doesn’t have enough territories to support enough wolf packs to make the species self-sustaining. Currently, the USFWS has to recapture wolves that leave the recovery area. The reintroduced wolves are considered a “non-essential” population, which gives wildlife managers much more flexibility in removing or killing wolves that pose a problem — either by killing livestock or hanging around areas that bring them into conflict with humans. Many of the wolves released have been recaptured. About half have been killed — often shot illegally.
Game and Fish made a series of suggestions, including:
• Allow for 200 to 300 wolves instead of the 100 included in the original recovery plan.
• Limit the introduction of new wolf packs to the existing recovery area near Alpine, which straddles the Arizona-New Mexico border.
• Greatly expand the area where the wolves can wander without getting rounded up and recaptured. The wolves could reproduce in that area, but USFWS wouldn’t release new wolves there. The group suggested limiting that range to roughly a third of the state east of Highway 87 and south of Interstate 40. That would put more than half of Gila County in the reintroduction area — but not Payson.
The last plan released by USFWS would extend almost to the Colorado River and include all of Rim Country.
• Establish a corridor so wolves in Arizona and New Mexico can move down into the Sierra Madres in Mexico, where an effort to reintroduce the wolves has faltered. The Mexican government has released 11 captive-reared wolves, but at this point only one survives.
“We’re still developing the department’s state wolf plan,” said Game and Fish assistant director Jim Voss. “It’s a substantial increase from what we have right now, but smaller than what the Fish and Wildlife Service will ultimately propose.”
The USFWS has set up a $634,000 annual fund to reduce the impact of the wolves on ranchers. The fund will make payments to ranchers with grazing allotments on public lands where wolves establish themselves. Those payments would include direct payment for documented livestock wolf kills plus general compensation to make up for things like the loss of weight by cattle who become much more nervous, active and skittish in wolf territory.
However, some ranchers complain that the federal government has in the past covered only a fraction of their likely losses. Most ranchers in the West have a small, core parcel of private land, but lease a much larger expanse of federal land. Studies suggest that the federal government provides subsidies totaling some $100 million to permit holders on 270 million acres of Western lands. Those payments include things like installation of windmills and stock tanks that benefit both cattle and wildlife. Private, unirrigated pastureland in the West leases for an average of $11.90 per cow/calf, while federal lands lease for $1.35 per cow/calf.
Meanwhile, the USFWS in cooperation with Arizona Game and Fish continues to release more wolves into the existing recovery area.
Earlier this month, wildlife managers released two pairs into the Apache National Forest, to replace destroyed wolves.
One pair consisted of a wild-born male captured in January and paired with a female from the captive breeding program. Biologists put the two wolves in a large pen in hopes they would mate and produce a litter of pups when released. Wolves born in the wild have a much better record of surviving — and are considered less likely to prey on cattle for lack of the hunting skills necessary to bring down elk and deer and other prey. Biologists hope that pairing the captive-reared female with the wild-born male will increase the pair’s chance of success.
The second paired release also involved a recaptured wild-born wolf and a potential mate from a captive breeding facility in New Mexico.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has juggled the genetics of the reintroduced wolves, all descended from a handful of wolves captured in the wild and used to start the captive breeding program. That’s one reason the USFWS wants to create a connection between the Arizona/New Mexico wolves and the more genetically diverse wolf population in Mexico.
The two pairs remained in the enclosures for some intimate one-on-one time through the February-March breeding season before their release in April in a burned area in the Apache National Forest. Biologists hope that they will establish a territory and produce a litter of pups this year. They selected a release site not already claimed by a well-established pack, which would probably drive newcomers away.
Video of release of the "Hoodoo Pack" Mexican wolf pair into Apache National Forest on April 2, 2014
Wolf howls recording [MP3, 2.8 mb] - Bluestem Pack in AZ; Oct. 2009; 3:05 minutes in length