The evening of April 6, 2017, US Fish & Wildlife (FWS) held a community outreach meeting at the Rim Country (Sr.) Community Center in Overgaard, AZ on the Mexican Wolf Project.
With only a one week notice, the turnout from our community was quite low. There were more individuals representing the different government agencies than residents. However, there were several local ranchers represented including Jim O’Haco, president of the Arizona Cattle Growers, who works his third generation cattle ranch on the Sitgreaves Forest (one of the largest in Arizona), John Spear of the sportsman’s group Western Wildlife Alliance, and other residents from Heber-Overgaard and surrounding areas including Clay Springs, Young and Payson.
The meeting facilitator, was Kent Laudon, FWS Field Team Leader for the Mexican wolf project. On the panel were Sherry Barrett, FWS Recovery Coordinator and John Oakleaf, FWS Field Project Coordinator. Quite a few employees from US Forest Service and Arizona Game and Fish (AZGFD) were in attendance. The day to day wolf project is a coordinated effort by the Interagency Field Team made up of FWS, AZGFD and Wildlife Services. The Forest Service is involved as well where the project relates to federal land.
Laudon reviewed the Mexican Wolf Project’s history and explained about the concern of the current lack of genetic diversity in the wild population which can result in undesirable traits showing up in the offspring. He said, “This means we have a bunch of brothers and sisters running around out there mating.”
It’s been nineteen years since the first release in Alpine, AZ and New Mexico. With only seven wolves that began the breeding program, there is a genetic bottleneck in the wild population. According to the Mexican Wolf Blue Range Reintroduction Project Initial Release and Translocation Plan for 2017, all the current wild breeding pairs producing pups are related to one breeding female F521 of the Bluestem Pack. “Of the approximately 70 Mexican wolves in the wild for which individual genetics are known, analyses indicate only 4 – all of which are males – are not descendants of F521. Thus, there is very little potential for natural pair formation among unrelated wolves in the wild now or in the future.”
The idea to fix this problem is to bring in more diverse genes from wolves living in captivity. There are three basic methods to do this:
- Translocations: Moving a wolf currently in the wild for management purposes from one location to another.
- Cross-fostering: Placing captive born pups into wild dens with similarly aged pups to be raised in the wild.
- Initial Releases: Release of wolves raised in captivity.
Of these three the Arizona Game & Fish Commission has requested use of Translocations and Cross-fostering as they have fewer nuisance problems. There are combinations of these three methods as well that are being considered for all sections of Areas 1 and 2 of the MWEPA (Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area).
The annual wolf count at the beginning of this year is 113 wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. About 50 percent of them are collared. (Without being collared, there is no wolf management.)
In the meeting a rancher in attendance from Clay Springs said he recently reported a wolf sighting on his property. AZGFD Wolf biologist Ed Davis of the Pinetop office said they have confirmed the presence of a lone male wolf in Clay Springs. Even though many in Heber-Overgaard have reported seeing wolves, they are not considered to exist until confirmed by the wolf team.
Side note: A person called me a couple months ago and said they saw a pack of five wolves while walking in the Mogollon Air Park; called the main AZ Game & Fish toll-free phone and reported it. Being the snap reporter that I am (ha ha) I did check with Ed Davis to see if he had received this report and unfortunately he did not get the message. Everyone should call Ed directly when you see what you believe is a wolf around here. See his card with contact info above. It’s very important to report it to the correct party. This has been going on for a couple of years now. If they don’t know about the wolves living around us, they cannot manage them. I believe wolf oversight and management behooves the safety of our community as well as the overall program.
Rancher’s concerns: Part of the meeting covered the lost revenue that damage from wolves costs the ranching business. According to Mr. O’Haco, the Arizona Cattle Growers have been fighting for the ranchers since 1998 when the Mexican Wolf Project began. “It’s been a lot better the last couple of years,” said O’Haco referring to the reimbursement programs available now. Some ranchers in New Mexico and Eastern Arizona where the project began, were forced out of business because of their losses. Many of the losses, which can be hard to prove, are not covered.
One reason is wolf depredation of a cow must be confirmed by Wildlife Services. For example, if a cow disappears and no remains ares ever found, it cannot be proven it was a wolf kill. Or, the carcass may not have enough remaining evidence for Wildlife Services to make the determination. O’Haco has hope the new Arizona Farm bill effective in 2018 will bring more relief.
One additional concern O’Haco expressed is only one percent of the US population is a food or fiber producer by occupation. Government should be encouraging this industry not making it more difficult.
Sportsman’s concerns: One wolf eats the equivalent of 16 elk per year. 113 known wolves currently in Arizona and New Mexico times 16 equals 1,808 elk lost this year to wolf depredation. The wolf population was reported to be growing at 10 to 30 percent per year. That is 180 to 542 elk in addition to the 1808 this year will die to feed the wolves. For the next year you take your total (1988-2350) and again add 10 to 30 percent. Do the math yourself to see how quickly as it compounds each year. The concern for maintaining the our local ungulate (deer and elk) population was brought up. AZGFD holds the responsibility to keep a count on our game. If they can prove the wolves have removed elk faster than they can reproduce, thinning of the wolf population would be in the cards.
They just cannot wait too long to figure this all out. It’s reported some moose populations in the northern states may have gone too far down to recover. According to sportsmen advocate Big Game Forever:
Moose in Jackson Hole, Wyoming are in serious trouble. Before wolves were introduced into Yellowstone, there were 3,000 to 5,000 moose in Jackson. Today, less than 20 years after the experimental wolf introduction, there are less than 500 moose left. This is a true American conservation nightmare. As one of the most important and iconic Shiras Moose populations in the world, protecting and restoring moose in Jackson is critical to their survival. In the early 1900’s, when moose became extinct in most areas across the American West, it was the Shiras Moose from Jackson that were used to restore extinct populations. Considering the importance of Jackson’s moose to saving the species in America, it is unacceptable what 20 years of wolf mismanagement has done to this vitally important moose population.
Arizona’s native Merriam’s Elk went extinct early in the last century thanks to a lack of management. Would hate to see a similar fate to our current Arizona big game population due to wolves.
Many of the questions from the audience covered basic knowledge on wolves, their management and their effect on communities. In a later phone conversation with Laudon I asked what exactly their plan for our area is as we never really covered this matter in the meeting. He replied that at this point in time, they believe wolves will be migrating here on their own (which we know is already happening.) But, they don’t have any plans to do any translocations. They could do the cross-fostering of pups but we don’t have any confirmed established dens with which to work. But, the fact that FWS held a meeting here is significant in itself.
To learn more on the Mexican Wolf Project, visit fws.gov/southwest/es/mexicanwolf/, azgfd.com/wildlife/speciesofgreatestconservneed/mexicanwolves/ or there are several articles on MogollonRimNews.com under Outdoors and then Wolves.
If you have complaints or concerns, you should contact your legislators and county representatives. They are the only way to get any type of relief or action on these government programs.