GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - Arizona Senate Bill 1243 authorizes Arizona Game and Fish (AZGF) to enter into a memorandum of understanding with U.S. Fish and Wildlife to limit reintroductions and releases of Mexican gray wolves to within three miles of state or private land.
The bill also asks for a full DNA profile of each wolf reintroduced.
Sandy Bahr, chapter director for the Grand Canyon Sierra Club, said additional provisions for the bill were already amended once, requiring Game and Fish to give the location of wolves during its meetings.
"(The bill) is not as horrible as when it was first introduced, but it's still a bad bill," Bahr said. "One of the things that we don't like about it, and is interesting, is that Game and Fish doesn't object to this kind of thing. I know that there are some, like the lobbyists for the livestock industry, who promote these kinds of bills and they do it based on a lot of misinformation."
SB 1243 did pass both the House and the Senate once but because of the amendment, it is now back in the Senate, waiting for a final vote. The bill has yet to be been finalized. According to Bahr, the bill most likely won't be passed until the state budget is passed by Gov. Doug Ducey.
For ranchers who have suffered livestock losses by wolves, the bill could make a big difference.
"It really kind of sets a landmark regarding the wolf program," said Andy Groseta, a third generation Arizona rancher and past president of Arizona Cattle Growers Association and the National Cattleman's Beef Association. "It sets the benchmark that any wolf located within three miles of State Trust land or private property shall be picked up by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW)."
For ranchers and others in the livestock industry, problems between wolves and livestock go back to before the wolf was first re-introduced to the state in 1998.
According to USFW, the Mexican gray wolves were trapped and removed from the wild on behalf of the livestock industry in the early to mid-20th century. After passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, and placement of the Mexican wolf on the list of endangered species in 1976, five wolves were captured alive in Mexico and three were successfully bred. In 1998, wolves were released back into the wild in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (BRWRA) within the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area.
"There are a lot of things that kill cattle and a lot of reasons they die out there and wolves is way down on the list," Bahr said.
According to Bahr, SB 1243 would be a micromanagement of Game and Fish and she believes it codifies bad policies.
"For many, many years' Game and Fish objected to this kind of bill but now they're supporting it," Bahr said. "What you have now is a legislature that is really getting into micromanaging wildlife. (Wolves) are still endangered, so Fish and Wildlife is the responsible entity."
Jon Cooley, endangered species coordinator with AZGF, said if the bill passes it could mean an increase in management for the department.
"If there were to be those kind of requirement in place in terms of managing wolves, one thing that would come to mind quickly is that it would increase the management requirement in terms of field work," he said. "It would increase the management requirements on the ground."
According to Carey Dobson, a fourth generation rancher operating three cattle ranches within the recovery area, issues between wolves and livestock is inevitable.
"I've tried everything to keep them away. All they do is just run around you in circles. You can push them off and they go to your neighbor and then they come right back. We've tried everything," he said. "It's outrageous how much money I have to put out just to keep ranching."
Bahr, along with the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice and a coalition of wolf conservation groups and environmental organizations are working to keep the number of wolves in the recovery area at a steady number and provide protection so the wolf population can thrive. One roadblock for the groups is lobbying from ranchers, who see wolves as a liability.
"The fact that they spend so much time trying to hinder wolf recovery really, on some level makes no sense, because that's hardly the biggest threat," Bahr said. "As a body they've objected to wolf recovery for quite a while."
One thing both groups agree on is the need for a revised recovery plan by the USFW for the wolves.
In 1982, USFW developed a document labeled recovery plan, for the Mexican wolf, however, according to Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization, USFW said the document was incomplete, intended for only short-term application, and did not contain objective and measurable recovery criteria for delisting as required by the Endangered Species Act. The 34-year-old document did not provide the necessary science-based guidance to move the Mexican gray wolf toward recovery.
On April 26, a court settlement requiring USFW to prepare the recovery plan for the Mexican gray wolves was announced. USFW have until November 2017 to complete the document.
"USFW is being required to meet a legal obligation to complete a legally-sufficient recovery plan, with the ultimate goal of a healthy, sustainable population of Mexican gray wolves in the wild," Earthjustice said in a press release earlier this month.
Until that happens Dobson and other ranchers said the only thing that will make a difference is if funding for depredations on livestock continue to take place.
"They need to get funding from the government or it's going to come back to the public to come up with a tax or do something," he said. "If they want these wolves they have to pay for them. I'm paying for them. I need to be compensated. Why should I pay for everybody else to have that animal?"