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AZ Game and Fish Bids to Take Over Gray Wolf Recovery

December 21, 2010

TUCSON, Ariz. - The Arizona Game and Fish Department has written to the state's congressional delegation, urging removal of the Mexican gray wolf from federal Endangered Species Act protection. The department argues Arizona could take over the Mexican wolf recovery program and operate it more efficiently and cost-effectively. But Eva Sargent, southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife, disagrees. When the state used to run the wolf recovery program, for a period of six years, she says it nearly drove the population to extinction through excessive wolf removals.

"Arizona even proposed, at one point, a moratorium on releasing more wolves, which they championed right up until it became apparent that there were so few breeding pairs that not even their own low criteria would allow them to do that."

With only 42 Mexican gray wolves left in the wild along the Arizona-New Mexico border, Sargent says removing federal protection could doom the remaining, fragile population.

Arizona Game and Fish says federal red tape has gridlocked Mexican wolf conservation efforts for decades. However, Sargent says she is encouraged by recent federal progress, including an end to the removal of Mexican wolves from the wild.

"They've finally got a recovery team of scientists put back together that's supposed to meet early next year. They're doing the first release of a Mexican wolf in two-and-a-half years, and Arizona ought to be lending their support to these new efforts, not bickering over who's in charge."

Sargent is convinced that, if Congress removes Endangered Species Act protection for Mexican gray wolves, the decision will be based on politics, not science.

"There's no scientific basis for saying that a species with 42 individuals in the wild and only two breeding pairs should lose federal protection. The Mexican wolf needs more protection, not less."

She also doesn't believe Arizona has the resources or manpower to monitor the endangered wolves and prevent poaching, especially since the wolves' territory covers two states and is slated for expansion into northern Mexico.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ