Guest Column: AZGFD supports wolf recovery based on best science
By Jim Ammons
Arizona Game and Fish Commissioner
It’s been a long hard struggle to recover the Mexican wolf in Arizona, and we are seeing great progress. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently issued a draft wolf recovery plan revision that the Arizona Game and Fish Commission has been requesting for years. While scientists with the Game and Fish Department evaluate the plan before the Aug. 29 comment deadline, I am compelled to comment on the false information from certain organizations that object to elements of the plan without recognizing that recovery actions are based on new scientific information.
There are many allegations that the Arizona Game and Fish Commission has opposed and even impeded Mexican wolf recovery. Nothing could be further from the truth because the commission has supported wolf recovery every year since wolves were first reintroduced by providing funding to help re-establish the Mexican wolf, so far totaling more than $7.5 million. We annually commit the department to act on behalf of wolves, and our biologists and field staff have logged more than 100,000 hours in this pursuit. The money we allocate to wolves is discretionary, meaning we could spend it on several other endangered or threatened species. But, we are consciously and deliberately choosing to fund wolf recovery. Claims that the commission has not taken steps to support wolf recovery are factually incorrect.
The most current research and management experience demonstrates that introducing adult captive wolves, accustomed to being around humans, is more likely to result in wolves getting into trouble and having to be removed from the wild. As an alternative, the commission has authorized biologists to introduce new genetics into wild packs through cross-fostering, which involves taking captive-born pups and placing them with wild wolf litters. Research has shown that this approach is successful, as a cross-fostered wolf recently gave birth to pups in the wild. Science-based wolf releases like this are helping gain acceptance among the people who live and work on the landscape, which is critical to successful recovery.
This draft recovery plan revision is based on “the best available science” as it includes the most recent data from 2007 to 2016, data that were not available or analyzed by previous recovery teams. The additional data from this period show that the Mexican wolf population is growing rather than remaining stable (as indicated by the previous data analyses), and that genetic stagnation is not impeding recovery. In recent years, wild wolf numbers have increased an average of about 16 percent annually and today, there are at least 113 wolves roaming in the wild in the U.S. Those 113 wild wolves are the minimum count based on observed wolves, and the actual population is likely higher.
Certain organizations critical of our efforts to recover the Mexican wolf refuse to accept the contemporary research published by independent scientists and researchers from the U.S. and Mexico. This research, published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, clearly shows our recovery methods are helping wolves move in the right direction.
Some have argued that Mexican wolf recovery should occur in areas outside their historical range, such as areas north of I-40. Scientific data indicates Mexican wolves were never established that far north, and the subspecies would be at risk of “genetic swamping” by the larger and more numerous Northern Rockies wolves, effectively eliminating the uniqueness of the smaller Mexican wolf. We must not allow this Mexican subspecies to have its gene pool diluted and lost forever.
We are critical of organizations that peddle false scientific information that undermines the good work of the Arizona Game and Fish Department and our wolf recovery partners. We’re on the ground every day, working to give Mexican wolves a fighting chance. We have the most knowledgeable wolf biologists using the most up-to-date science-based conservation tools and technical data to recover the Mexican wolf. Our collective goal should be helping this species to thrive, not keeping it permanently endangered.