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Sun, Aug. 25

Wolf recovery plan includes expansion to Prescott area

Courtesy of the Fish and Wildlife Service

Courtesy of the Fish and Wildlife Service

A newly revised proposal to recover the Mexican gray wolf would allow some to be released in the Prescott region.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has revised its 2013 proposal in response to public comments. Comments on the new proposal and study are due by Sept. 22.

For details on ways to comment, see the PDF dowload with this story. For more details about the proposal, go online to es/mexicanwolf.

Right now the approximately 83 endangered Mexican wolves in the wild are confined to the Blue Range Recovery Area in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. Fish and Wildlife wants to expand their range so their population can grow to sustainable levels.

Last year, Fish and Wildlife proposed allowing the wolves to naturally roam throughout Arizona and New Mexico south of Interstate 40. The new proposal also includes that same region.

The proposals don't include areas north of I-40 because the agency is trying to take incremental steps on the wolf territory expansion, said Tracy Melbihess, who works on the Mexican wolf recovery program. A slower expansion makes it easier to vary the wolves' genetics, she said.

The new proposal also expands the wolf release areas because Fish and Wildlife is running out of good release sites, Melbihess said.

The new proposal adds language that would allow certain wolves to be released into a larger "Zone 2" (shown in red on the accompanying map) that includes all of Yavapai County. Fish and Wildlife would be able to release pups on federal lands in this region, as well as move wild adults here to release on federal lands with previously captive pups. On private lands, officials could release any wolf with the approval of the landowner and state officials. On tribal lands, they could release any wolf with approval of the tribe.

Fish and Wildlife would seek public comments before releasing wolves in this region, Melbihess added.

The new proposal would keep the Mexican gray wolf's designation as "non-essential experimental" so ranchers and wildlife officials could continue to kill them for killing livestock or trap them for roaming outside their designated range.

The new proposal also would expand the situations where the public could kill a Mexican wolf. Melbihess explained those situations.

Right now, a rancher can kill a wolf that's attacking the rancher's livestock on private land. The new proposal would allow people to kill wolves attacking pet dogs on non-federal lands.

Currently, Fish and Wildlife can issue permits to livestock owners to kill wolves on federal lands that have become habituated to killing livestock, if at least six breeding pairs are living in the area. The new proposal would allow Fish and Wildlife to also issue permits for people to kill wolves on non-federal lands if the wolves are making a habit of killing livestock.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and Wild Earth Guardians issued news releases that support the wolf expansion area but criticize the expansion of criteria to kill the endangered wolves.

They also criticized the Arizona Game and Fish Department for seeking to take over the wolf reintroduction program.

As livestock populations increased in Arizona and people wiped out the native elk, wolves started eating more livestock and people killed them off, too. Most wolves were extirpated from Arizona by the 1950s and the last known wolf was killed here in 1970.

After a recovery plan was completed in 1982, the first Mexican gray wolves were reintroduced into the Southwest in 1998.

At least 37 wolves have been shot and 12 have been hit by vehicles, the Arizona Game and Fish Department estimated last year.

Click here to download a PDF copy of Frequently Asked Questions (450 KB). The FAQ sheet includes ways to comment on the Wolf Recovery Plan proposal; comments are due by Sept. 22.

Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter @joannadodder

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