On Monday Feb. 8, 2016, the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s Mexican Wolf Project Team met with local ranch Permittees at the Black Mesa Ranger Station in Overgaard to explain six newly approved Mexican wolf release sites that are located west of Heber-Overgaard around the Chevelon Lake area. The purpose of the meeting was to explain the hows and whys of these release sites to the ranching businesses that will be directly affected by the wolves. A large part of the conversations evolved around the programs that exist in Arizona for depradation losses, avoidance prevention, and pay for presence that will be explained later in this article.
There were many representatives from the US Forest Service’s Apache-Sitgreaves Forest including people from Springerville-Eager and the Albuquerque Regional office including land managers, biologists, etc. Jim deVos, Asst. Director for AZ Game & Fish Wildlife Management and Jim O’Haco, President of the Arizona Livestock Board were both present and contributed to the meeting.
Representing USFWS were John Oakleaf, the Field Project Coordinator, Kent Laudon, the Field Team Leader and Sherry Barrett, wolf recovery coordinator. Laudon began the meeting explaining the recovery efforts that started with seven wolves in the late 70s. The wolves currently in the wild are less genetically diverse than the ones that have been breeding in captivity and thus the need to release more wolves. “It’s like a bunch of cousins running around out there,” said Lauden. He also explained wolves are territorial and thus they cannot release the supposedly more genetically diverse wolves in the old areas because they will fight.
These proposed releases are scheduled for 2017. The Wolf Team consulted with AZGFD and USFS workers on the release sites. Wolf managers look for areas which provide the best chance of success. Generally they look for a third of an acre that is flat, has water, a substantial prey base and where there will be less conflicts with people. They release a breeding pair, (male and female) and pups. The Permittees were told, “You guys know the country very well, that livestock layer.” The Wolf Team asked for feedback from them on the six release sites that have been approved with the point being to help place the wolves where they will (hopefully) do the least amount of harm. It was disclosed that there are three Permittees whose allotments are in the proposed release areas, the Limestone, Wallis and Chevelon Canyon allotments, but only one of those Permittees was represented in the meeting. It was brought up that a sheep producer is also in the release area and they weren’t at the meeting.
All six of the sites were not discussed as the meeting went too long. The four that were brought up are Sand Point, Chevelon Canyon, William Canyon South and William Canyon North. It was suggested the further south you go, the more elk. But is was also brought up by Chris James, the Ranger at Black Mesa, that there are up to 1 million recreational users in the Rim Recreational Area which is also to the south.
Knowing a wolf travels up to 250 miles, eventually all of the Rim Permittees will be affected. Remember, there are eight approved release sites in Pleasant Valley as well, just below the Rim. “A breeding pair,” explained Oakleaf, “Tends to stay in the general vicinity while tending their pups.” So, for the first year or so, these wolves most likely won’t leave the area.
The Wolf Team said they average one to two releases per year in a new area. Once a release site is approved, it remains a possible release site whether it’s ever used or not.
Lauden said, “A pack is five wolves and most cattle producers lose 0 to 6 calves per year with the average being 1 based on a lot of years with wolves…but it can be worse.”
The packet that was handed out to the ranchers consisted of many pages on who to contact when you lose an animal to depradation or they go missing and how the reimbursement programs work. There are three ways to go about getting money: Mexican Wolf Livestock Council, Farm Services Agency and a new program just passed in the 2015 Arizona Legislature. AZ Game and Fish have been meeting with the AZ Cattle Growers Association to establish a program with fairer compensation than the current programs. It is a work in progress but an account has been opened with the State Treasurer, and a nine panel board is in the process of getting confirmation by the AZ Legislature. They want to establish a reasonable rate and time frame to offset the affect of wolves. Right now farm producers can get payment for Depradation and Conflict Avoidance but not Pay for Presence.
Depradation means confirmed killing or wounding of lawfully present domestic animals by one or more Mexican wolves. The rancher must call Wildlife Services and have them come out to investigate. The rancher is responsible to protect the “scene” and according to Oakleaf, their average response time is 19 hours. They confirm if it is or is not a wolf kill or a probable kill. Losses can also be claimed for missing cows that are never found in wolf territory.
Conflict avoidance includes diversionary methods such as putting out food for the wolves in another area so to get them away from the cows or flaggery which is red flags on horseback riders on who ride through the wolf territory. (Wolves reportedly don’t like this. I’m not making this up folks.)
Pay for presence is loss to cattle producers from other affects of wolves than just the death of their cattle. Cows can have all kinds of health problems resulting from fright, which include such things as miscarriages or weight loss. In the past these were not included in compensation to the rancher.
The current compensation programs seem to be less than fair. For example, in the 2014 Farm Bill Livestock Indemnity Program the Fair Market Value for the different sizes and gender of cattle is based on 95% of the nationwide values (not taking into account local values) and then payment is 75% of that value. Plus, a 1099 will follow. So, where else do you experience a loss and then get a 1099 and have to pay tax on a loss reimbursement? Is it any wonder that ranchers have gone under?
The majority of the ranchers at the meeting looked like they had put in a pretty tough day already. The meeting began at 4:30 PM and didn’t adjourn until almost 8 PM. They come to this meeting and are given a bunch of paperwork on who to contact and what records they’ll need in order to be able to recoup losses when they occur. The Wolf team couldn’t answer specific questions on the compensation program but just kept repeating, “You’ll need to contact your Farm Services Rep.”
Some of the things on the list the Permittees will be required to show are photographs or video records to document the loss, dated if possible; purchase records, vet records, production records, bank or other loan docs, written contract, records assembled for tax purposes, private insurance docs and on and on.
Jim O’Haco, AZ Cattle Growers Assoc. President, said that transparency is the most important thing in this whole matter. “We want to know when and where and how many wolves. My recommendation to you folks (Permittees) is to pursue compensation. The Coexistence Council is not working real well. I think there may be money through the next farm bill making for easier payment. There was a rancher in Greenlee County where the wolf kills put him out of business. He sold the rest of his cows but then couldn’t sell the ranch. If a rancher is put out of business he should be compensated for the ranch. All things haven’t come together yet. But you’re gonna put somebody out of business. Less than 1% of our population is producing food and fiber in this country and soon we’ll be dependent on foreign sources for food. Transparency and communication…”
There were some great quotes by the cowboys. They were very polite but to the point. Here is one from a cowboy to the Wolf Team: “At the end of the day everybody in this room has one purpose, to go out and work, come home, kiss momma and the kids and hopefully get a paycheck. This wolf, not his fault, but somebody will have to go home and tell momma we’re out of business. Not that we don’t like you or wolves…transparency is exactly right for this program to be successful. You can cover up horror stories and you have to live with your conscience. If I was one of you, consider when you hug and pet that wolf, hug and pet these people right along with him. Stewards of the land and have been for generations. You’re putting up a big huge wall when you won’t work with him. You have a job to do. Do it wisely; make sure these people are compensated for what they’re gonna lose. All these things have to be considered.”
The question of the validity of the genealogy of the Mexican wolf was asked since the entire project began with only seven animals and there are stories that there were dogs included in the gene pool. The USFWS team said that they do a blood test on every wolf they pick up and there is no dog or coyote, only wolf present. If they do pick up a dog or coyote mix, they euthanize it along with the pups. A question was posed to Sherry Barrett by Carol Clark of Young, “Do you have records of these test results?” Barrett replied that yes they keep the lab results in their files. Clark then asked, “Are these results available to the public?” …Only silence from the front of the room…
An interesting point was brought up by Pascal Berlioux, Ph.D, Executive Director of Eastern Arizona Counties Organization, that in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) the definition of a species is not required. So, if a bureaucratic scientist says it’s a “wolf” then it’s a “wolf”. Also, there’s no official threshold to define “hybrid”.
Another question was “Is the current stated goal of 300-325 wolves the number needed to delist the Mexican gray wolf?” The answer from Barrett was that they do not know that final number until the recovery plan is done at the end of 2017. “We have shown that wolves do work in the wild. There are fourth generation wolves in the wild. We’ll have those numbers of wolves so it will persist over time without going back on the list.”
There has been a number in other news publications that quote the USFWS wants up to 750 wolves in the wild. A rancher asked, “If there are say, 600 wolves running around, at what point does the state step in?” AZGFD Jim deVos, replied that he believes the 300 to 325 number has biologically defensible support and would stand up in court, if challenged. He said he didn’t have the position to answer that question. But, since that number wasn’t casually chosen, a person could read between the lines.
Sherry Barrett said they’re working on the 2017 recovery plan together with the state. What we’ll figure out is what the number should be. She called it the Vortex model, where they run statistics on litter size, pack size with different scenarios. She stated, “We don’t want to have to relist it. It doesn’t matter what I think, it must be based on science.”
Wolf field team members have been conducting their annual count the last couple of weeks. Once that number is derived, they only use that number until the next year’s census. They count collared and how many they physically see so there could be a 10-20% discrepancy. For example, there are three uncollared packs which have to be visually counted.
Here’s a quote I found interesting. When asked how and what do you feed the wolves in the release pens, Oakleaf said they do have food and water for them. “We feed them road kill, elk, and a carnivore log zoo diet, which is primarily horse meat.”
Here’s a quote from a cowboy that sums it up: “There’s not a cowboy in this room that couldn’t qualify for disability. We want to work. You’re making us dependent upon the federal government for compensation. Our best direction to make a living is now in the form of compensation from the federal government. At the end of the day the only way money is generated is harvest the animal you grow. You’re choppin’ the legs out from under us. If we could make a living with wolves, there would still be wolves here. Not just cattle…elk and deer bring in money to the economy. But the wolf doesn’t contribute. Saddens me we’re being made wards of the government. Like going on welfare. The whole process saddens me. I don’t want welfare, I just want to make a living. But, what choice do I have?”
Interestingly enough, the White Mountain Apache tribe does have a choice. They allowed one release and no more. They do their own management as well.
Per Lauden, “Our goal is to work our way out of a job.” He continued, “When I worked in Montana, once our goals were met and the wolf delisted, we looked right away at hunting and trapping seasons. There’s been hunting and trapping of wolves in MT and ID since 2009. In my area, we removed a third of the wolf population.”
So, please indulge me to transcribe: USFWS will release many more wolves than are needed into the wild before they will say it’s a recovered species and can be removed from the endangered species list. Then literally the next day, there could be open season to kill them because there’s so many. My opinion is this is another large government program gone awry. We don’t have enough money to properly school our children but we can spend millions on an experimental wolf program where the management side of wolves will NEVER END.
Here’s something from the Federal Register/Vol. 80, No. 11/Friday, January 16, 2015/Rules and Regulations that was passed out at the meeting. “Disturbance-causing land-use activity means any activity on Federal lands within a 1-mi radius around release pens when Mexican wolves are in them, around active dens between April 1 and July 31, and around active Mexican wolf rendezvous sites between June 1 and September 30, which the Service determines could adversely affect reproductive success, natural behavior or persistence of Mexican wolves. Such activities may include, but are not limited to, timber or wood harvesting, prescribed fire, mining or mine development, camping outside designated campgrouds, livestock husbandry activities (e.g., livestock drives, roundups, branding, vaccinating, etc.), off-road vehicle use, hunting and any other use or activity with the potential to disturb wolves…I wrote that so the reader understands there will be forest closures involved as well.
Here’s an interesting quote that appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune, “Utah Wildlife Board Chairman John Bair says that no evidence will ever convince him that Mexican wolves should be allowed in Utah. ‘People want to use the wolf as the silver bullet to kill the culture of the West,’ said Bair, a gifted auctioneer and self-proclaimed ‘Mormon redneck’ from Springville, UT. ‘There is no need to have them here other than those political reasons.’”
If you’re against the ongoing experimental wolf program there’s a few things you must do:
- Get behind US Rep. Paul Gosar’s bill H.R. 2910, Mexican Wolf Transparency and Accountability Act which aim is termination of the USFWS final rule of Jan. 2016. You can read the text of the bill by clicking HERE.
- Sign a petition in support of Rep. Paul Gosar’s bill H.R. 2910 by clicking HERE:
- Learn more on this situation at People For Safe Neighborhoods on Facebook by clicking HERE.
- Contact your representatives and tell them how you feel about the matter. Find them online at HERE.
- If you have a wolf sighting, take a picture if possible, and report it to the me and the authorities.
If you’re wondering when the public meeting will be for the families and people who live in the Heber-Overgaard areas with USFWS, the answer is probably never. Ranger Chris James told me the US Forest Service will have a meeting to comply with the law and would like the USFWS to be there, but chances are slim to none. Maybe they can’t be bothered by the citizens whose taxes pay their salaries or maybe they’re just too busy releasing more wolves?