Wolves May Come To Payson

Plan would add region to reintroduction area

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released a revised proposal to save the endangered Mexican gray wolf by including all of Rim Country in a sprawling, two-state area where it could introduce new wolf packs.

The proposal would essentially allow the wolves to wander outside that core reintroduction area into all of Arizona and New Mexico south of Interstate 40, in an attempt to connect the recovering wolf population in the United States with reintroduced populations in Mexico.

The proposal did respond to pleas to loosen restrictions on killing or harassing wolves to protect pets and cattle.

However, the USFWS proposal largely rejected a plan by Arizona Game and Fish and a coalition of other concerned parties to limit the reintroduction efforts to a much smaller area. That plan would have put the western limit to the reintroduction area along the boundary of the Hellsgate Wilderness area east of Payson.

The USFWS proposal would instead include the Payson and Young Ranger Districts of the Tonto National Forest in the core area for introductions, which would stretch through the White Mountains to the current reintroduction area and on into New Mexico.

The new proposal would also designate all of the state east of Highway 93 and south of Interstate 40 as an area the wolves could disburse into and where the USFWS could move already introduced wolves around to avoid conflicts with people or with each other.

The USFWS will hold hearings on the proposal on Monday, Aug. 11 in Pinetop. Biologists will explain the proposal at an informational session from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and then hold a public hearing to get testimony from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. It will also accept comments on the plan which offer specific changes or information to help refine the proposal.

For the past decade, USFWS has tried to build up a population of at least 100 wolves as part of an “experimental, non-essential” population, which allows much greater latitude in management than a simple endangered species designation. The population around Alpine, the Blue Ridge Primitive area and on into New Mexico this year reached 83, a new record. However, biologists say they’ve run out of suitable territory in the existing recovery area to introduce any more wolf packs.

USFWS regional director Ben Tuggle said, “Over the last 16 years, we have learned much about managing a wild population of Mexican wolves and it is clear that the current rule does not provide the clarity or the flexibility needed to effectively manage the experimental population in a working landscape. We need to remedy that so we can continue wolf reintroductions while being responsive to the diverse needs of local communities.”

The USFWS is still working on a detailed environmental impact statement on the proposal, which will be based on the proposed, expanded boundaries.

Previous proposals for an expansion of the recovery area have drawn sharply contrasting reactions. Many conservationist groups have urged as large a recovery area as possible, given the small size of the wolf population and the large territories wolf packs defend from other wolves.

However, many ranchers, hunters and others have fought to limit the recovery area for fear the expanding wolf packs would kill so many cattle they’ll drive struggling ranchers out of business or reduce the deer and elk herds. Arizona’s 135,000 hunters contribute about $127 million annually to the state’s economy, according to a Game and Fish study.

The proposed change in the rules would allow people to drive off or kill wolves in the act of attacking pets, cattle or other domesticated animals in the extended recovery area. However, they would have to prove the wolf was attacking a pet or domestic animal. Ranchers and other landowners could also get permits to harass or kill wolves who posed a threat to people, animals or property.

The analysis that came with the proposed revisions predicted the big expansion in the area for reintroductions would not have a major impact on either elk and deer populations or ranchers, based on the experience of the last 16 years in the existing recovery area.

The preliminary analysis concluded Arizona and New Mexico together contribute about 2.5 percent to the nation’s beef supply. About 90 percent of the 12,000 ranches in Arizona and New Mexico have fewer than 100 cattle. These ranches produce about 10 percent of the beef in the region, with a handful of ranches with more than 2,500 head responsible for more than half of the state’s beef production.

Between 1998 and 2013 in the current recovery area, the wolves killed about 56 cows and calves annually — which includes both the confirmed and the unconfirmed livestock kills for a significantly smaller population than now exists. That worked out to a rate of about 118 kills for every 100 wolves each year. The wolves reduced herds by .01 percent for both confirmed and unconfirmed kills, the study concluded. Using 2012 prices, each 100 wolves would kill about $98,000 worth of cattle annually. Expanding the range would increase the number of wolves to about 285 by 2026, which could increase the annual livestock kills.

The USFWS operates a program that will pay full compensation for confirmed kills and 50 percent compensation for suspected kills, although many ranchers say the program doesn’t fully reimburse them or take into account their true losses.

The analysis also suggested the presence of wolves would make the cattle more alert and skittish and probably prevent them for loitering in riparian areas. All of that would reduce average cattle weights by about 6 percent in areas claimed by a wolf pack. That could also eat into a ranch’s profit.

However, while the wolves could have a significant impact on a specific small ranch operation, the impact would be negligible on the larger operations that provide most of the cattle, the analysis concluded.

The report also concluded the expansion of the wolf territory would have a negligible impact on deer and elk populations, treasured by hunters and many tourists as well.

The wolves tend to prey on calves and fawns and older, often weaker deer and elk. By contrast, hunters go for the largest elk. As a result, the kills of the wolves probably won’t have much effect on the hunters.

Moreover, the Arizona Game and Fish Department did a game survey of deer and elk in the current wolf recovery and reintroduction area. The study found no noticeable impact on the number of deer and elk in the areas claimed by the wolf packs.

That contrasts with studies in Yellowstone after the reintroduction of the gray wolf, which found a roughly 50 percent decline in elk populations. However, the sharp decrease in elk populations there resulted in a big recovery of the heavily grazed riparian areas, which benefited a host of other species.

The analysis also included reactions to the rule changes by four undisclosed scientists, who critiqued the scientific basis for the recommendations.

One review pointed out that the proposal put too much emphasis on reducing wolf mortality which has been low and not enough on figuring out why the wolves have had so few pups that survived. For instance, in 2012 the 75 wolves in the existing reintroduction area had only four breeding pairs. The 16 percent annual mortality for the existing population “is surprising low for almost all wolf populations,” the reviewer concluded. “It appears from the data there’s a huge recruitment problem, there is not a wolf mortality problem.”

He said the program lacks scientific evidence for many key assumptions, like how many wolves in the wild it takes to establish a stable, self-sustaining population. The overall plan set the goal at 100, but the reviewer said it’s likely the real number is closer to 300.

He also noted that the USFWS seems to have spent a lot more time and resources on “endless federal bureaucratic issues, litigation response and settlements, rather than on scientific inquiry, analysis, publication and subsequent modification of field management.”

That scientific reviewer concluded the plan should not make an open-ended promise to remove wolves whenever private landowners complain without demonstrating the wolves have caused some damage or danger.

“The rule should be crystal clear and then it is easy to implement and for the public to understand and trust the Forest Service. For example, if a loner is on private land 10 percent of the time, will the Service try to remove it? What if nine out of 10 landowners are OK, but one wants the wolves removed? What if nine landowners want it removed, but the one with 90 percent of the pack territory wants them left alone? How much time do they have to spend on private land before the Service tries to search them out and remove them?”

The reviewer also suggested the plan should give Arizona and New Mexico a more prominent role in management of the expanding wolf populations.

All the scientific reviewers offered detailed critiques. However, they all agreed with the proposal’s suggestion that the success of the reintroduction effort depends on the huge expansion of the recovery areas.

Comments

H. Wm. Rhea III 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Let's reintroduce the wolves to D.C. and see how much they like it.

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Michael Alexander 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Last week, Hondurans... this week, wolves. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people should not allow for tyranny by bureaucratic agencies. We need to consider all remedies. And soon. While we're still allowed. http://conventionofstates.com/

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Mel Mevis 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Good article.

If you look at what happened in Yellowstone the whole thing was a positive. Yellowstone had large overgrown thickets of trees that had been destroyed by fire. With the reintroduction of wolves grazing animals (elk, deer, bison, etc.) moved to larger meadows and areas with less timber. This reduced the grazing impact on riparian areas resulting in new growths of Aspen for the first time in 100 years.

We need to look at this from a health issue for our forests, game and cattle. If we can get 4FRI going new meadows and lower tree density will result in more grasses for feed. By altering the behavior of grazing animals to avoid riparian areas and thinning the forest we will have the potential of seeing small streams that have not had surface water for 75 to 100 years again flowing. This is a plus.

As long as I can protect my livestock and pets I do not have an issue. I'm currently practicing this with coyotes and have had great success.

Over the long run this has the potential of being a positive for Rim Country.

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Ronald Hamric 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Mel,

On this issue we may be more in agreement than one would think. But you are talking two totally different situations with your current approach to coyotes as opposed to the Mexican Gray Wolf. Coyotes are not a Federally protected species. As matter of fact one only needs a valid hunting license and the season on those are mostly year round on coyotes. As to the wolves, you had better look very closely at the burden of proof that will fall to you if you eliminate a wolf that is predating on your livestock. I think you had better have a "lot" of video of said predation along with the remains of the prey.

And I also look forward to the 4FRI implementation, but at my age and the speed at which this thing is progressing, I won't live to see even the slightest benefit from it.

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H. Wm. Rhea III 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Hey Mel, I hate to burst your bubble but having lived there, near Yellowstone for 25 years before moving to Payson, I can tell you that Wolf Reintroduction was not and still is not positive. Not only have cattle depredations increased, but elk, deer and other herd animals have also dropped in numbers. Then because they were protected their numbers increased and they quickly moved out of the park. Now they have wolf hunts there to try and control the population. Would've been better to not have been reintroduced!

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Mel Mevis 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Please explain why the population of elk in Yellowstone was maintained at an un-naturally high level by winter feeding. Yellowstone would be unable to maintain it heard sizes if they were not fed hay and grain during the winter months.

Yes wolfs have decreased the heard sizes. It just depends on who's opinions and data you consult. One thing is for sure elk should be wild and not treated like livestock. At least that is my opinion.

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Ronald Hamric 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Again Mel, I agree with your views on this. Had they not been artificially maintained, the Yellowstone elk herd would have had a natural die off, which is what occurs when overpopulation takes place. But I also believe that the same will happen to the wolves if their numbers are not kept in check. They will deplete their food source and either relocate to another region or they will die off as well. I'm not sure we haven't gone too far down this road to artifically sustaining specific wildlife species. And hunting is an important part of the maintenance of the population balance. After all, we are the ultimate predators. But I was raised to believe, "if your are not going to eat it, don't kill it!"

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Anita Christy 1 month, 3 weeks ago

"It seems like such a nice, tidy way to explain the rebirth of Yellowstone National Park — that after wolves were reintroduced in the mid-1990s, they changed the ecology of the park, including the way rivers flow. But nature is never tidy, as Colorado State University scientists explain in a recently published paper that debunks the popular notion that wolves were solely responsible for park changes. Monbiot's talk was focused on the concept called "trophic cascade" — when predator species suppress their prey, thus alleviating pressure on that animal's food source. Monbiot points to river banks growing sturdier with vegetation and rivers becoming less meandering, creating pools that attracted more wildlife. "The wolves changed the behavior of the rivers," Monbiot says. Well, not so much, say researchers at Colorado State University. "It has been popular and convenient to tell the romantic tale that wolves have restored Yellowstone, but our findings prove it is not so simple," said CSU professor Thompson Hobbs, who co-authored the paper."

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Anita Christy 1 month, 3 weeks ago

If you do a little research on the numbers of animals actually lost to Mexican wolves, you will learn that the bar is set very high on those "confirmed" kills that ranchers have to prove. In fact, it's a joke. I've been reporting on this issue for months. Here's a link to one of my articles, complete with gory photos of slaughtered calves, ponies, dogs, sheep, etc. So be forewarned. http://www.gilacountywatch.com/index.cfm/blog/gov-brewer-and-arizona-game-fish-kick-sand-in-the-faces-of-arizonas-rural-families/.

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Anita Christy 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Wolves are a little different than other predators. They don't kill and then eat their prey. They eat living, screaming animals. A few of their favorite appetizers are fetuses from pregnant cows and from any pregnant animal, plus guts and genitals. They leave the animals to die an agonizing death. You think they limit their kills to "weak, sick" animals? They are capable of pulling down bison.

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Robbin Flowers 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Anita, WOW!!! Those pics are sad. All I will say is that it is very doubtful that a wolf would ever roam on my property, but if I ever saw one near my goats I WOULD STK.

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Meria Heller 1 month, 3 weeks ago

I believe it was Chief Joseph that said "without the animals man would die of a lonely spirit". When we move into habitat that animals/snakes etc live on we are invading their territory. As for moving wolves into D.C. I'd think they have enough of them!

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