Coconino Voices: Wolves deserve wider range

2013-08-21T05:00:00Z Coconino Voices: Wolves deserve wider rangeKim Crumbo Arizona Daily Sun
August 21, 2013 5:00 am  • 

As the Arizona Daily Sun’s recent editorial, “Wolf expansion plan needs more details” points out, Flagstaff residents can provide a significant voice in restoring this ecologically critical, charismatic creature to its rightful place in northern Arizona. The potential for wolves to return, as the Daily Sun reported back in 2007, has been considered for well over a decade.

The Mexican wolf is one of America’s most endangered mammals. With only an estimated 75 of these wolves in the wild, several management actions are urgently required for its survival. In mid-June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed to remove the gray wolf from the list of threatened and endangered species, except the Mexican wolf, which will remain an endangered subspecies subject to certain provisions that have proven problematic in the past. 

Because the entire existing Mexican wolf population is derived from only seven survivors rescued from extinction, the agency’s proposal to allow direct releases of Mexican wolves throughout the existing Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area is absolutely critical. This action can and should be done immediately. 

Twelve years ago a panel of four imminent carnivore scientists urged a revision of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, laying the scientific foundation and imperative to enlarge the recovery area. The USFWS needs to quit stalling and complete a comprehensive recovery plan addressing the current plan’s shortcomings — and let the public see it — and at the same time allow wolves to be reintroduced into additional suitable locations as described above.

The Daily Sun’s editors brought up a good question: Why stop northern wolf migration at Interstate 40 as the USFWS proposes? There is nothing sacred and nothing scientific about the I-10 southern recovery area boundary, nor I-40 to the north. In fact, the USFWS suggests extending the recovery area south of I-10 to the Mexican border. However, the agency completely ignores the recommendations of its own Mexican wolf science team, who emphasize the wolf’s long-term survival requires connected habitats north of I-40, including the Grand Canyon region and portions of southern Utah and Colorado. 

Wolves are legendary wanderers. While highways present serious hazards to all wildlife, wolves are capable of finding a way across. For example, one female traveled a circuitous route of more than 3,000 miles from Yellowstone to Colorado. She successfully crossed I-80 three times before she was poisoned in 2009. Closer to home, a female Mexican wolf traveled more than 200 miles and successfully crossed I-40. Sadly, a vehicle later struck and killed her in the fall of 2000, 12 miles north of Flagstaff on U.S. 89.

Wolves are social, family-oriented creatures that play a critical role in healthy, resilient ecosystems by affecting the behavior and numbers of prey species. The overabundance of grazing and browsing wildlife often results in degradation of forests, streams and grasslands. 

For example, the wholesale slaughter of carnivores, including wolves, in the early 20th century on the North Kaibab forest and Grand Canyon National Park, precipitated an explosion of mule deer populations that dramatically reduced forbs, grass, aspen saplings, and other native vegetation. Elk, a recent migrant to Grand Canyon National Park and the Kaibab and Coconino national forests, continue to damage riparian vegetation as well as aspen and other native plants.

The recovery of viable wolf populations can dramatically improve the health and resilience of forest, stream, and grasslands. For example, the return of the wolf to Yellowstone discouraged elk from lounging and trashing streamside willow and cottonwood vegetation.  Now, increased vegetation stabilizes stream banks while shading and cooling many sections of creeks and rivers. Increased willow and other native vegetation allowed beaver to return and create numerous ponds providing sanctuary for fish and other wildlife.

Wolves kill and harass coyotes, benefiting hawks and foxes that depend on rodents hunted by coyotes. By killing and scaring off coyotes that otherwise prey on pronghorn antelope, pronghorn fawns are much more likely to survive in areas dominated by wolves. That’s because wolves favor larger prey and generally leave pronghorn alone. 

As the most recent polls confirm, most Arizona residents recognize the critical role wolves play in nature, and believe they belong in northern Arizona.   While the deadline for requesting locations for public meetings has passed, you can submit your wolf recovery comments online at: http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=FWS-R2-ES-2013-0056-0001

Kim Crumbo is conservation director at Grand Canyon Wildlands Council in Flagstaff. www.grandcanyonwildlands.org or (928) 606-5850.

Copyright 2015 Arizona Daily Sun. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(14) Comments

  1. MikePL
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    MikePL - August 25, 2013 11:41 am
    We need true scientific practice all the way around - not just when it suits your belief system. The wolves in Idaho do in fact kill for sport - it has been documented with countless uneaten elk kills. Their numbers exploded too fast in too far of a range to be managed. Again - I want to see the grey wolf survive, but it must be done in a controlled manner taking into account everyone's interests.
  2. MikePL
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    MikePL - August 25, 2013 11:37 am
    You make some valid points. Nobody wants to see a species go extinct when man was the cause of their downfall, and man can help save them. But how do we accomplish their survival without having a disaster like what has occurred in Idaho? And make no mistake - it has been a disaster. Many people who want with all their heart to see the wolfs recover deflate the cattle/sheep depredation numbers, and deny the effects of their recovery in Idaho.
  3. Ringokid
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    Ringokid - August 25, 2013 10:39 am
    The big question is, when will the hunts start?
  4. TriciaS
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    TriciaS - August 22, 2013 3:50 pm
    Great article! Scientists have been recommending for years that the recovery area be extended to include the Grand Canyon region; seems silly that USFWS is ignoring this.
  5. sarahj
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    sarahj - August 22, 2013 10:40 am
    Great article. Thanks for publishing this. This area needs this keystone predator to keep the delicate ecosystem in balance, and given room to roam, the wolves will establish themselves in areas with adequate game. As for the livestock situation, in 2010 just over two tenths of one percent of cattle deaths and 4% of all sheep deaths were due to any type of predator, which includes a lot more than just wolves. (USDA) There are many proven-effective methods for avoiding conflict.
  6. savethewolves
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    savethewolves - August 21, 2013 2:07 pm
    Thank you for this. The wolves deserve their rightful place in the wild to keep a balance in the ecosystem.
  7. Frieda Wolf
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    Frieda Wolf - August 21, 2013 11:46 am
    Wolves, as key ecological actors, can bring much-needed balance to our forests, aiding aspen recruitment, supporting stream restoration and contributing to overall forest resiliency. Gateway communities like Flagstaff, Williams and Sedona, already setup for tourism, could benefit handsomely from strong international interest in wolf restoration and related wildlife-viewing and research opportunities. Helping the world's most endangered wolf find its way back to Arizona is the right thing to do.
  8. Porpose
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    Porpose - August 21, 2013 11:09 am
    Wolves not only can improve the health of elk and deer herds, they have been shown to benefit the entire landscape -- such as in Yellowstone. Arizona should insist on having its own Grand Canyon wolves. It's a shame USFWS has failed three times since 1982 to even come up with a plan to recover Arizona's native Mexican gray wolves.
  9. MHowell
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    MHowell - August 21, 2013 10:23 am
    Great article! It's the 15th anniversary since the lobo's return to the wild landscape. Let's recognize this historic event & significant milestone for the lobo by helping further the recovery of the rare species by allowing them a wider area to roam. The current recovery area is too limited, the wild knows no boundaries. Please ask USFWS to expand the recovery area so lobos can bring an ecosystem back to balance within their ancestral home in the wild southwest.
  10. Alicyn
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    Alicyn - August 21, 2013 10:17 am
    The Grand Canyon region hosts a large, contiguous, remote, and mostly intact ecosystem where wolves can thrive and will benefit the landscape. I think it would be wonderful to hear a wolf howl in the Kaibab National Forest, or in Grand Canyon National Park. I agree whole heartedly that assigning arbitrary boundaries to wolf territory, and ignoring the Grand Canyon region in the recovery plan, are huge mistakes. Let's listen to the scientists on this one.
  11. Mermaid
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    Mermaid - August 21, 2013 10:12 am
    Mr. Crumbo is right -- it is absurd for the US Fish & Wildlife Service to keep wolves from moving north when scientists say they need to be reestablished in the Grand Canyon region and in northern New Mexico/southern Colorado in order to recover. It would be so great to hear wolves howl in new places -- why is the Fish & Wildlife Service not following the best science? How many polls do we need before they get the message that most of us in AZ, NM, and CO (and probably even UT ) want wolves?
  12. Donna
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    Donna - August 21, 2013 9:58 am
    Thank you Mr. Crumbo for your insightful article. Flagstaff, Northern Arizona and beyond would greatly benefit from having wolves on the landscape. The Arizona Daily Sun ran a story in January (http://tinyurl.com/l6y2tzr) on the overpopulation of elk on the San Francisco Peaks and the decimation of the Aspens. Wolves would help control elk numbers. MSN ran a similar story about elks being a menace in and around the Grand Canyon National Park. Northern Arizona needs and wants wolves.
  13. mojo jojo lobo
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    mojo jojo lobo - August 21, 2013 9:55 am
    http://www.ktvb.com/news/Wolves-kill-176-sheep-near-Victor-greatest-loss-recorded-in-Idaho-220371911.html
    I wish you better luck with your wolves than we're having with ours.....
  14. rgeorge
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    rgeorge - August 21, 2013 8:55 am
    Great guest column! As the writer points out, we will all benefit enormously from the restoration of wolves in the Grand Canyon region. More information about how to comment on the Fish and Wildlife Service's proposal is at www.mexicanwolves.org
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