Column: Mexican gray wolf plan doesn’t work for rural Arizona
Growing up on the F-Bar ranch in Snowflake, I know how important the cattle ranching industry is to Arizona’s economy. I also know ranching is both hard and humbling. Ranchers do not need the federal government making it any more challenging.
This is why I am disturbed by the unwillingness of many federal agencies to appropriately take into account the priorities and concerns of our hardworking ranchers. This failure is especially difficult for a state like Arizona, where 42 percent of our land is under the control of the federal government.
The recovery process for the Mexican gray wolf has proved to be another example of the federal government’s disregard for local concerns.
Back in 1976, the Mexican gray wolf was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in order to address the declining numbers of Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico.
This original plan set a recovery goal of 100 wolves, a target that was exceeded in 2014. However, instead of celebrating the recovery plan’s success by delisting the wolf and returning management to the states, the federal government decided to move the goal posts.
Late last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released a revised recovery plan for the Mexican gray wolf that does not reflect an honest attempt on behalf of the federal government to work with those most directly impacted by wolves on the landscape.
The newly proposed plan fails to create a path for the wolf to be delisted. Instead of automatically removing the wolf from the endangered species list once the new population goals are reached, the plan only calls for the wolf to be “considered for delisting.” This means there is no end in sight for Arizona ranchers and other rural residents who are forced to operate under the onerous ESA regulations.
Unfortunately, this recovery plan also fails to take into account any of the provisions I put forth in the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Plan Act, which was crafted in conjunction with local, affected ranchers and residents. By ignoring these provisions, USFWS is only continuing the trend of failing to listen to and cooperate with the local citizens most impacted by these federal policies.
Furthermore, this revised plan exclusively targets Arizona and New Mexico for the recovery process, despite acknowledging that Texas has habitat just as suitable as Arizona and New Mexico. The plan offers absolutely no provisions to ensure our ranchers are not disproportionately burdened by this recovery process and does not reflect the reality that nearly 90 percent of the wolf’s historic range is in Mexico.
Finally, the true kicker of this revised plan is the incredible cost and time associated with recovering the wolf. The USFWS estimates their revised plan could take up to another 35 years to complete, and will cost taxpayers an estimated $262,575,000. Based on the new population goals for wolves in the U.S. this plan would cost $820,546 per wolf. These are figures that should concern, not only all Arizonans, but all American taxpayers.
The Department of the Interior, which oversees the USFWS, has asked for public comments on this revised recovery plan. I intend to make it clear the most recent draft has substantial flaws and that the agency must better take into account the voices of Arizona’s ranchers and rural residents. Our ranchers, like all our citizens, certainly deserve the opportunity to express their concerns over the policies directly impacting their livelihoods.