Populations of NM, AZ wolves rising

Feb 7, 2014

Arizona’s endangered Mexican gray wolf population continued a four-year trend of reproduction, growing from 75 to 83 in 2013, state and federal officials announced in January. A subspecies of the gray wolf, the Mexican wolf was added to the federal endangered species list in 1976.

“With a minimum of 83 wolves in the wild, the Mexican wolf population has nearly doubled in the past four years,” said Benjamin Tuggle, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Regional Director. “I’m proud of the remarkable progress that the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program and its partners have achieved in bringing the Mexican wolf back from the brink of extinction.”

According to the report, seven packs produced pups—mostly in New Mexico—and 17 of those young wolves survived through year’s end. The population has reached a total of 37 wolves in the forests of eastern Arizona and 46 in New Mexico, according to reports.

The wolves inhabit the 4.4 million-acre Blue Range Recovery Area, which includes the Apache and Gila national forests. The agency is reviewing a proposal to expand that reintroduction zone to 12,500 square miles, stretching west to Payson, AZ, and east into New Mexico.

While wolf advocates remain concerned about inbreeding, and are hoping the government steps in to release more wolves, producers in the area are facing the same upward battle as other wolf states.

In Arizona, the state’s Senate Government and Environment Committee, championed by Sen. Gail Griffin, approved three proactive measures this month to help ranchers with the wolf reintroduction.

SB 1211 would allow the Arizona Department of Agriculture or ranchers to kill wolves suspected of killing cattle, without fear of federal prosecution.

SB 1212 appropriates $250,000 from the general fund “for litigation expenses.”

A resolution, SCR 1006, calls for shifting management of this endangered species from federal to state control.

Idaho wolf legislation

Other states that weren’t able to instill some proactive measures are now facing an explosion of the wolf population, forcing the states to react to growing problems.

In Idaho, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s has proposed a $2 million fund to downsize the state’s population to 150. Idaho now has about 680 wolves, according to Fish and Game estimates in 2012.

Rep. Marc Gibbs (R-ID) and Sen. Bert Brackett (R- ID) told the House Resources and Conservation Committee the money set aside with Otter’s proposal, along with smaller contributions from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and livestock producers, would help the state reach the goal.

Brackett pointed out that the plan still kept the wolves from returning to the Endangered Species Act protection status by maintaining the 150 wolves required in a 2002 wolf management plan approved by the state legislature.

Federal support to control wolves will stop in 2016, Brackett said. In Fiscal Year 2013, the federal government provided $650,000 of the state’s $1.4 million wolf management budget.

If the bill passes, the $2 million would be a one-time appropriation with the livestock industry and hunting license fees contributing $110,000 each year.

However, wolf advocates say the levels discussed at the House meeting, if the state were to follow through, are so low they’d likely automatically trigger renewed scrutiny by the federal government over whether wolves in Idaho deserve to be relisted.

The proposal passed its first introduction, barely 9 to 8. It now gets a full hearing in coming weeks. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor