The US Fish and Wildlife Wolf Team (FWS) held a town hall meeting at the Community Center in Young, Arizona on the evening of Thursday December 15, 2016. Young is about a 46 mile drive southeast from Heber.
The outreach on the part of FWS is part of the ongoing Mexican Gray Wolf Reintroduction Project. The main speaker was FWS Field Team Leader Kent Laudon, who was accompanied by John Oakleaf, the FWS Field Projects Coordinator and Sherry Barrett, FWS Wolf Recovery Coordinator. There were several more FWS employees in the audience as well as Arizona Game and Fish representatives Paul Greer, AGFD Field Team Leader and Ed Davis, AGFD Wolf Biologist.
Laudon, who worked for many years in the northern states with the Northern Gray Wolf populations, had a presentation prepared which according to his outline ranged from the history of the Mexican Gray Wolf (MGW) to Wolf Management. However, he began accepting questions from the audience early on and never was able to complete his talking points.
The audience was engaged in the discussion with many questions as Young is a ranching community and the MGW may have a grave economic impact on the area. As it was pointed out, some of the ranching operations are small family run businesses and most likely could not survive repeated depredations of their livestock. Rancher and newly elected Gila County Board of Supervisor, Woody Cline, pointed out the reimbursement programs, even when they work, don’t take into account the time and acclimation costs of the lost animal to the rancher’s business. They spend considerable amounts for the breeding and genetics process up front which is not reimbursed, nor is the value lost for the reproduction value of the animal over it’s lifespan. Per Kline, “That cow’s lifespan averages ten years. They don’t take into account the value of those calves that will never be born.”
It was reported from an audience member that a local (Pleasant Valley) rancher had already lost an animal to a wolf kill. The Interagency Field Team (IFT) didn’t have record of it being reported and the person didn’t have the details of the rancher’s actions. There is a time factor in the reporting of these as the evidence is all but devoured by area predators after a short time.
Here are some of the meeting highlights:
- All MGWs in the wild are from one pack – in 1977-80 seven wolves that had been found in existence in Mexico were determined to be “genetically pure”; existing of two females, 5 males, and of those, 2 males were siblings.
- There are approximately 240-300 animals that have been bred and now live in captivity.
- Translocations, moving a wolf out of an area, occurs for three reasons: 1) the most common is depredation of cattle; 2) outside it’s allowable boundary; 3) Human nuisance problems.
- The San Carlos Apache Reservation doesn’t allow wolves; the White Mountain Apache Tribe (WMAT) receives money for accepting MGWs. The MGW population on their reservation is not available for public knowledge, it being a sovereign nation. (Although it borders our area to the south. I’m not a biologist, BUT, I doubt wolves pay much attention to where the borders are.)
- The WMAT has been paid in the past according to the FWS panel, $205,000 per year to manage the wolves.
- The MGW program’s price tag is around $2 million per year.
FWS have until June of 2017 to state the number of wolves needed for full recovery, a statistic that at one point was set at 325 but then rescinded by FWS.
- The MGW population is growing by 10 to 15% annually. Only 50% of the MGW population is collared. (Even though the total number of “counted” wolves officially declined in 2015.)
- AGFD doesn’t support initial adult releases; there aren’t any scheduled for 2017. They do support cross fostering of up to six wolf pups annually. That’s where a pup is placed in an existing den to be nurtured to maturity, have pups of its own with the hope of improving genetics. A cross fostered pup from two years ago successfully had a litter in the wild this past spring.
- Reimbursement funding for producer losses under Title 17, State Livestock Loss Board is still not done.
► If you site a wolf contact Mr. Davis at 928-215-5598 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you see a wolf in Heber-Overgaard or nearby vicinities, you are asked to report it to Ed Davis of the AGFD in Pinetop, AZ. He told me a picture is great but you no longer need to have a photo of the animal to report it. Even without photos they know if several calls come in from an area, there is potentially wolf presence there. In order to manage the wolves, they need to be aware of their locations.
The November tracking report didn’t show any wolves in the Heber Overgaard area, however, this report only includes collared wolves. MGW can travel up to 250 miles and there’s certainly the possibility uncollared wolves may arrive here from other locations such as the Fort Apache Reservation just a few miles to our south.
The annual census should be available in another month or so to see how the population fared in 2016.