Arizona Wants Wolf Assurances

by Frosty Taylor
Heritage Information Coordinator

During a nearly five-hour Arizona Game and Fish Commission meeting held Saturday afternoon in Safford, which drew an attendance of approximately 160 to hear an update on the three-year Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program, the Commission directed the Department to write a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) obtaining written assurance that:
• USFWS will not use any additional release sites in Arizona for the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program beyond those sites used since inception of the program.
• USFWS will be fully responsible for all cost incurred relating to claims, including litigation against the Department, the Commission or the State of Arizona as it relates to the reintroduction program.
• All future public and/or stakeholder meetings related to the reintroduction program for the Mexican gray wolf will be held within a reasonable distance to the release sites (i.e. Springerville, Safford, Pinetop or Show Low, in Arizona and Silver City in New Mexico ).
• All future stakeholder meetings related to the reintroduction program for the Mexican gray wolf include the opportunity for full participation by all permittees within the geographic region identified in the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) as possible release sites.
• All local governments (chief elected and executive officials) within the geographic region identified in the EIS as possible release sites be provided specific written notice for all public and/stakeholder meetings.

Commissioner Joe Carter's motion to write the letter to the USFWS was approved 4-1. Commissioners Dennis Manning, Hays Gilstrap and Sue Chilton supported Carter's motion. Carter's motion was made after hearing public comment from approximately 70 citizens following a detailed Mexican wolf project update given by Region I supervisor Richard Remington.

In preparation for receipt of the USFWS three-year reintroduction program's evaluation (biological and social), which is expected in August, the Commission unanimously backed another Carter motion for the Department to provide the Commission with:
• Full costs for Department participation in the program since its inception, along with the amount reimbursed by the USFWS.
• Total hours for Department staff involved in the program since its inception and a breakout of staff hours since the initial release.
• Total hours for Department owned or leased equipment used in support of the program since the initial release, along with a general breakout of the hours for types of equipment used (i.e. aircraft, vehicles, monitoring, etc.)
• The number of supplemental feeding events and what role the Department played.
• The identical information (cost, hours, equipment) for the USFWS role in the program since the initial release.

During the meeting approximately 50 citizens voiced strong support for the Mexican reintroduction program, including spokespersons for the Phoenix Zoo, the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum, several Sierra Club chapters, Preserve Arizona Wolves (PAWS), Defenders of Wildlife, Animal Rights League, and several ranchers.

Terry Johnson, Game and Fish nongame branch chief, said the Department recently received 800 to 900 e-mails in support and six or seven against the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction. Johnson emphasized that surveys show 65-85% public support for the reintroduction. Johnson has been the project leader for about 15 years.

Approximately 20 opponents went to the microphone to speak against the wolf reintroduction, encouraging the Commission to remove the Game and Fish Department from further participation.

Commissioner Mike Golightly of Flagstaff stood firmly behind the program. "They are our wolves. They belong to us to manage. The program needs tweaking, but if we aren't there (involved) we don't have any say (in the project). Our mission is to protect and conserve wildlife. I will remain an advocate for the program."

Commissioners Chilton and Carter expressed annoyance at USFWS "arrogance," indifference to public comment, and conducting meetings long distances from affected areas (reintroduction sites).

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