Recently I, along with Kelly McGee (a strong wolf advocate from PA), traveled to Arizona and New Mexico to attend the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) public hearings dealing with their proposal to change the management policies of the Mexican gray wolf.
This is a long and complicated proposal with a great deal of complex scientific information. There were many presentations that represented both sides of wolf recovery. There were 4 times more presenters favoring wolf recovery than those opposing it. The presenters supporting wolf recovery were significantly more knowledgeable of the scientific aspects of it than in the past. Those opposing it seemed to have a limited understanding of wolves and the proposal.
There are portions of this proposal that I support and others I oppose. The science and the program's biological and political problems are confusing. They prevent the general public from having an adequate understanding of it. My 19 year involvement in Mexican wolf recovery has given me the insight into USFWS's rhetoric and scientific gibberish such that I can make sense out of their non-sense.
The Mexican gray wolf is the most highly endangered wolf in the world and the most highly endangered mammal in North America. Presently there are only 83 of them in wild. Back in 1970 the last remaining 7 of these animals were captured to begin a captive breeding program. In 1982 a reintroduction program was established. The first Mexican gray wolves were released into wild of AZ and NM in 1998 with a recovery target set at 100 animals. This a minimal number and I have found no science that was used to establish that figure. Now in 2014 (16 years later) the population is still beneath that target goal at just 83 animals.
The USFWS has now put forth a lengthy, complicated proposal intended to reach that goal. They want to increase the area where these animals can roam but they also want to change the regulations on how private land and animal owners can kill them. The proposal to increase where they can exist is a major step forward since the limited area where they are presently allowed is the biggest obstacle to their recovery. But the policies relative to how they can be killed or harassed is an even bigger step backwards.
There is no projection as to when any of this proposal will be implemented and what portions of it will be enacted and which portions will not. This is by far the most contentious wildlife recovery effort in this county's history. I feel the present proposal will lead to significant litigation which will further delay Mexican gray wolf recovery.
After leaving NM we decided to travel back to Nevada going through Arizona to visit as many of our long time friends and supporters as possible. Our most memorable visit was with Bobbie Holaday. Bobbie is the founder of Preserve Arizona Wolves (PAWS)and the author of The Return of the Mexican Gray Wolf – Back to the Blue. This book is a complete documentation of Mexican gray wolf recovery from the beginning to the initial release in 1998. PAWS was a non-profit wolf advocacy group that was instrumental in getting USFWS to obey the Endangered Species Act and initiate a Mexican gray wolf recovery program. I sincerely feel that without Bobbie's motivation, inspiration, diligence and perseverance the Mexican gray wolf would now be totally extinct.
We also visited our friends at the Heritage Park Zoo. This was an emotional visit for me. I was instrumental in getting the first 3 Mexican wolves placed there and in the design and layout of the enclosure where they lived the remainder of their lives. We also got to see their present Mexican wolf Imado. The zoo is actively trying to find a pen mate for him.
We also stopped at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in Socorro, NM. This facility houses those Mexican wolves with the behavior and temperament best suited to surviving in the wild. It is not open to the public but we were hoping they might make an exception for us. We got there past their operating hours. We were in search of a particular wild Mexican wolf that Kelly had been instrumental in saving its life. I want to tell all those that we didn't get to visit that we visited you in spirit. You were all fondly thought of but we just ran out of time. My plans are to return to Arizona soon for the sole purpose of visiting with all of you once again.
Being away from the Refuge for extended periods of time is difficult for the animals (and me too). Upon returning home the 18 "kids" here at the Refuge were just as excited to see us and we were to see them. All of them were happy and healthy.