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Fri, April 19

Column: Wolf recovery – a journey through politics

Sometimes where you are in life – such as your age or where you live – can steer your views.

This past week, after decades of legal challenges and political battles that have pitted states against the federal government, U.S. wildlife managers adopted a plan to guide the recovery of a wolf that once roamed parts of the New Mexico, Arizona and northern Mexico.

It’s not a popular plan.

But, let’s back up. Fresh out of college, nearly 30 years ago, I first worked for the National Wildlife Federation. I justified it in my conscience when I learned it represents the old guard of the conservative establishment, including many hunting, fishing and gun clubs.

I did a little work on their publications, but mostly was responsible for “grassroots lobbying.” That is more clearly door-to-door education and fundraising (telling people about a cause, the why and asking for donations).

The biggest project was gaining support for the wolf re-introduction effort underway in Congress at the time, mostly in Yellowstone National Park.

I saw it as a way to save wolves, which I admire; they are powerful and fiercely loyal, and they mate for life. I was accused of betraying conservatives through the work, especially since I lived in Boulder, Colorado (the land of earth muffins and Deadheads).

Fast forward to today – the effort to save wolves has become even more about politics. On the left/progressive are the Defenders of Wildlife and several others, while on the right are the ranchers, rural residents and the states. The politicians line up respectively, and the government agencies are pretty much in the middle.

The new plan is to have an average of 320 Mexican gray wolves in the wild over an eight-year period before the predator can shed its status as an endangered species, according to the Associated Press. Officials estimate recovery could take another two decades and nearly $180 million, a cost borne largely by breeding facilities that support threatened and endangered species work.

“This plan really provides us a roadmap for where we need to go to get this species recovered and delisted and get its management turned back over to the states and tribes,” Sherry Barrett, the Mexican wolf recovery coordinator, told The AP.

Naturally, some people don’t like the idea.

Environmentalists are voicing concerns, suggesting there needs to be more than 700 wolves in the wild if the population is to withstand illegal shootings, genetic issues and other challenges. They also are pressing for more captive wolves to be released.

On the other side, ranchers and elected leaders in rural communities have pushed back because the predators sometimes attack domestic livestock and wild game.

That’s where my opinion is now.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, said appropriately: “The Mexican Gray Wolf recovery plan proposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service is yet another federal regulatory nightmare for ranchers and Arizona’s rural communities. I am disappointed in the federal government’s decision to ignore productive comments to the draft recovery plan and the reasonable path to recovery laid out in the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Plan Act. I plan to continue my efforts to push for real recovery that takes into account the needs of the local stakeholders most impacted by this policy.”

Myself, I live in Prescott, Arizona, a beautiful place where people sometimes forget the challenges ranchers face. Personally, being fully aware that years ago I supported the lobo’s full recovery to its historic range, I also do not like the idea of being in the woods hunting and having to contend with a wolf.

All of this represents a journey of sorts – my thoughts on wolves and their place in this world. Sadly, it should not come down to politics, nor should a rancher have to worry about their livestock, or a hunter or outdoor enthusiast to have to warily watch their back. Frankly, being where I live my views have changed. It is not about us living in the wolf’s home. That is long gone.

It is a Catch 22. How do the wolves recover and ranchers not suffer losses? Something or someone will lose in the end, and that’s not lobophobia – that is reality.

Follow Tim Wiederaenders on Twitter @TWieds_editor. Reach him at 928-445-3333 ext. 2032, or twieds@prescottaz.com.

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