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Mon, Sept. 23

History of the grey wolf parallels the history of America

The Mexican gray wolf once roamed southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, southwestern Texas and central Mexico.

Ongoing unpublished genetics work suggests their range might have included Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, West Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

From 1880 to 1920, numbers of their large-mammal prey plummeted because of unregulated hunting, while livestock numbers dramatically increased because of the lack of regulations.

Private, state and federal efforts led to the extermination of the Mexican wolf from this country.

The federal government listed the wolf as endangered in 1976. The Mexican subspecies of the gray wolf that once roamed the Southwest is more rare than those in the northern Rockies and the Midwest.

The Mexican wolf is smaller than other gray wolves, about the size of a German shepherd. It doesn't have solid black or white variations like other gray wolves, either. Scientists believe the alpha pair is monogamous and usually is the only breeding pair in a pack. A pair produces four to six pups. A pack might contain four to eight animals and roam a territory that is several hundred square miles in size.

A bi-national captive breeding program began with the capture of five wolves in Mexico between 1977 and 1980.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program in 1982. It recommended at least 100 wild wolves.

The federal government released its first 11 captive-reared Mexican wolves into eastern Arizona in 1998.

A group of scientists recommended in 2001 that the wild wolf population was likely to decline unless officials allowed wolves to roam outside the arbitrary boundary, plus held ranchers responsible for removing or rendering inedible the carcasses of livestock that die of non-wolf causes.

The year 2002 marked the first wild-born litter from wild-born parents.

In 2003, the program restructured to allow states and tribes to implement the reintroduction project while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintained responsibility for recovery of the wolf.

That same year, the federal government created the multi-agency Adaptive Management Oversight Committee.

The committee completed a project review in 2005 and submitted 37 recommendations for federal review.

Those recommendations include:

• The committee will issue a draft rule to redefine the project boundary by March 31, 2007.

The Yavapai County region is part of the "experimental population area" for the wolves, but if they stray from their main range in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico, the agency has a policy to trap them. One wandered north of Flagstaff, but a vehicle killed it.

While Arizona will recommend expanding the boundary, it's unlikely to recommend expansion to the entire experimental population area, said Shawn Farry, the Arizona Game and Fish Department's Mexican wolf field team leader.

Other gray wolf recovery programs allow wolves to move more freely.

A Northern Arizona University Social Research Lab poll in March 2005 found that four out of five Arizonans support letting the wolves naturally migrate into suitable habitat in northern Arizona.

• When the wolf population hits 125 or more for two years in a row, the oversight committee plans to recommend looser constraints on when the government and citizens can shoot wolves.

• The committee will recommend that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service complete a new Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan by June 30, 2007.

• The committee has no plans to advocate regulatory changes that could require ranchers to make an effort to remove livestock carcasses to reduce the chances that wolves will get used to eating livestock.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department doesn't support replacing the wolf removal policy with monetary compensation for ranchers who lose livestock, Farry said.

The Defenders of Wildlife says it has paid $530,000 to ranchers who have lost livestock to wolves since 1987.

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