Gray-wolf releases could be postponed May 08, 2005 9:48 AM
Gray-wolf releases could be postponed
Mary Jo Pitzl The Arizona Republic May. 7, 2005 12:00 AM
Wildlife officials want to hold off on Mexican gray-wolf introductions in eastern Arizona for a year, drawing criticism that the plan panders to ranchers.
"They've bent over backwards to accommodate these ranchers, who are ranching on public land," said Sandy Bahr, conservation director of the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club.
Wildlife officials don't deny that the moratorium was proposed to answer ranchers' complaints. But they said the one-year break would buy them valuable time to get a clearer count of how many wolves are in the wild, complete a recovery plan for the next five years and determine which practices are best for relocating wolves, among other things.
The term "moratorium" has stirred up unnecessary fears, said Terry Johnson, endangered-species coordinator at the Arizona Game and Fish Department and a member of the committee that oversees work to re- establish the endangered breed to healthy status.
The ban would apply only to captive wolves that have never been in the wild, and it would only affect releases in spring 2006, Johnson said.
However, the proposal from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services envisions a ban from July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2006.
And that would set back recovery efforts for an entire crucial season, said Bahr and Bobbie Holaday, another Sierra Club member who has been deeply involved in the wolf program.
The wolf packs in Arizona and New Mexico need more genetic diversity, which would come from releasing new wolves into the wild, Holaday said.
"I hate to see it set back a year," she said, noting that the wolf population has been shrinking recently. State and federal wildlife officials estimate the current population at 45 to 50.
Ranchers paint a different picture, saying there could be as many as 100 wolves between the two states. Their concerns about the wolf program got a receptive ear with U.S. Rep. Stevan Pearce, R-N.M.,who convened a special meeting between ranchers and wildlife officials that resulted in the moratorium proposal.
The plan is open for public comment until May 31. A decision is due June 17.
Rancher Barbara Marks said a one-year pause would do little to alleviate her problems with the wolf population.
"It's really not going to have that much of an effect," said Marks, who ranches on 72,000 acres along the Blue River in eastern Arizona. "There haven't been that many new releases in the last year now."
Over the years, the ranch has lost calves and cattle due to wolves, although Marks said she can't definitively prove that.
For her, co-existence between wolf and man is not going to work because it never has.
"In history, we're supposed to learn from the past and not repeat it," she said. "In this case, it has not happened."