Local & Regional News

Wildlife officials drew a line at I-40 for Mexican gray wolves, but has it hurt recovery?

The Arizona Republic (Original) Posted September 18, 2021 by Lindsey Botts

As the state lead for the Mexican gray wolf recovery program, Jim deVos monitors the tracking collars of wolves roaming Arizona's high country. Each device emits a ping twice daily, which deVos receives at his home office in Prescott.

In May, a ping from a collar strapped around the neck of one young male wolf caught his attention. The wolf, known to the Arizona Game and Fish Department as M2520, had started wandering north from the designated Mexican wolf recovery area. The animal's movements caught the attention of not just deVos, but federal agents, conservation groups and hordes of wolf enthusiasts.

When the wolf initially crossed north of Interstate 40, according to deVos, the Game and Fish Department decided to wait and see what happens. In Arizona, the four-lane interstate runs from New Mexico, through Winslow and Flagstaff across to Kingman all the way to the California border.

Often, wolves stray north of the major thoroughfare only to turn around and head back toward the core recovery area. That didn't happen this time. Anubis, the name given to M2520 by a group of seventh-graders, stayed his course, roaming the Coconino National Forest, often meandering between Flagstaff and Williams, towns dotted with vacation homes and ranches. The managing agencies recorded the wolf crossing I-40 four times and Arizona Route 180, north of I-40, even more frequently.

The wolf's penchant for lingering near to what deVos refers to as developments was cause for alarm. At first, wildlife managers tried to scare the wolf off, away from the area. After that failed, they decided he needed to be removed. They tried to capture the wolf using a helicopter, but that tactic proved difficult in the area, which is heavily forested.

The Coconino National Forest — sparsely populated, rich with elk, and lacking competition with other male wolves — is an ideal landing pad for a wolf. The area is neatly tucked into a large stretch of wilderness that stretches from New Mexico up through Arizona to the Utah border. It includes the southern portion of the Kaibab National Forest, the Apache–Sitgreaves National Forests in eastern Arizona and the Gila National Forest in western New Mexico. It connects to the northern end of Kaibab National Forest via Grand Canyon National Park. Combined, the area is over 8 million acres of national forest and is part of the largest ponderosa pine forest in the world.

For Anubis, and wolves like him, the area is a vast expanse of potential habitat, the most ideal habitat for hundreds of miles. But unbeknownst to traveling wolves, once they cross I-40, they've entered a no-wolf zone.

The origins of the I-40 boundary
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the federal agency responsible for managing endangered species like the Mexican wolf. It designated the interstate as the northern limit of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Area and state agencies have vigorously enforced that border.

Built in 1957, I-40 divides the northern third of Arizona and New Mexico. On average, over 20,000 vehicles traverse its route every day. It drives local economies and serves as a major corridor for travelers. For many wolf biologists and advocates, it's become a major barrier to Mexican wolf recovery.

Emily Renn, executive director at the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project, a non-profit organization based in Flagstaff, has been a champion of expanding recovery areas for Mexican wolves since 2009. By leading camping trips and working in local schools, her organization focuses on education and outreach to build public support for wolves.

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US tribes demand emergency protection for wolves

Arizona Daily Sun (Original) Posted on September 14, 2021 by Todd Richmond for the Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. — Dozens of American Indian tribes asked the Biden administration Tuesday to immediately enact emergency protections for gray wolves, saying states have become too aggressive in hunting the animal.

Groups representing the tribes sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland asking her to act quickly on an emergency petition they filed in May to relist the wolf as endangered or threatened. They also asked Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico and the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency, to relist the wolf on an emergency basis for 240 days, ensuring immediate protection.

The groups say that states have enacted “anti-wolf” policies that present “a real potential of decimating wolf populations.”

The letter doesn’t name any specific states or polices. But Izzy Baird, a spokeswoman for Relist Wolves Coalition, which has been working with tribal nations on the issue, noted in an email that Wisconsin hunters went over their kill quota of 119 by almost 100 animals during that state’s spring season; Montana allows hunters to kill up to 10 wolves each and allows private payments for dead wolves reminiscent of bounties; and that an Idaho law passed in July allows hunters to kill up to 90% of that state’s wolves.

The letter notes that wolves play a key role in a host of American Indian tribes’ cultures and accuses the federal government of failing to listen to their concerns about removing the wolf from the endangered species list in January.

“Had either the Trump or Biden Administrations consulted tribal nations, as treaty and trust responsibilities require, they would have heard that as a sacred creature, the wolf is an integral part of the land-based identity that shapes our communities, beliefs, customs and traditions,” the letter said. “The land, and all that it contains, is our temple.”

Wolves across most of the contiguous United States were stripped of federal Endangered Species Act protections in the final days of the Trump administration. Wolves in the Northern Rockies region — including Idaho, Montana and Wyoming and portions of Washington state, Oregon and Utah – lost protections a decade ago under former President Barack Obama.

The groups include the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, the Association on American Indian Affairs, the Navajo Nation, the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, the Native Justice Coalition, the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association and the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona.

Department of the Interior spokesman Tyler Cherry declined comment on the letter.

Should We Welcome Wolves in Northern Arizona? Yes, Says Recovery Group; No, Say Officials

Arizona Daily Sun (Original) Posted August 29, 2021 by Sam McManis

He was a lone wolf. He roamed and rambled. He lit out west and north, away from the pack, going his own way. His pursuers, bipeds with a helicopter and fancy tracking equipment, followed. But he eluded them until, inevitably, they closed in.

Is there anything more romantic, more iconic, more quintessentially American than that scenario? Jack London himself couldn’t have written this any better.

And the plight of this lone Mexican gray wolf that strayed from his federally designated habitat — nicknamed Anubis by school kids and called m2520 by officials — captured the imagination of animal activists and a segment of the public this spring and summer until the wolf was captured recently and sent back to the pack in the White Mountains.

You could see this as a defeat for Emily Renn and her Flagstaff-based nonprofit, the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project, which is striving to promote the introduction of the endangered species to northern Arizona, beyond its federally mandated habitat area.

Then again, maybe not. Maybe the notoriety garnered by Anubis/m2520’s three-month odyssey in the Coconino National Forest raised awareness of the plight of the Mexican gray wolves, whose numbers ebbed to seven in the late 1970s but now total 186, collared and placed in packs such as Anubis’ Dark Canyon pack in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest.

Renn, the nonprofit’s executive director, along with board president Jeanne Trupiano, lament that wolves such as this are not allowed to wander -- as they say wolves are wont to do -- to expand the habitat, form new packs and boost its population and dwindling gene pool.

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Agency excuses don’t fly for Mexican gray wolf’s removal from northern Arizona habitats

The Wildlife News (Original) Posted August 27, 2021 by Greta Anderson and Emily Renn

 In the Arizona Republic article, “Anubis, a Mexican gray wolf found outside his territory, is relocated amid outcry from scientists, advocates,” (August 18, 2021), Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Jim deVos provided his agency’s justification for removing Anubis, a young wolf who wandered around Flagstaff for nearly four months without any issues. But for each of the agency’s excuses to justify removing this wolf from suitable Mexican gray wolf habitat, there were other ways to address the ‘problem,’ had the agency actually wanted to restore wolves to their rightful place on the broader landscape.

Mr. deVos used the fact that four wolves in 20 years have been roadkill in and around the Flagstaff area as one of the reasons for removing Anubis. It’s true that Mexican gray wolves can be hit by cars; twelve percent of lobo mortalities between 1998 and 2018 were caused by vehicle strikes, mostly within the designated recovery area. Removing Anubis doesn’t protect him from cars, but the agency’s justification reveals something else: wolves are regularly moving north of Interstate 40, the politically established boundary line intended to prevent wolves from re-establishing populations in certain parts of their original range. Rather than translocating the wildlife, the agency could be looking at creating safe wildlife passages for all of Arizona’s animals across highways like I-40. Deal with the problem – roads – rather than trying to block the natural processes of wildlife dispersal and migration.

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Lone Mexican wolf leaves mark in summer out west

Sedona Red Rock News (Original) Posted August 26, 2021 by Scott Shumaker

A young Mexican gray wolf’s summer adventure outside Flagstaff came to a close last week, and wildlife officials hope he’s a bachelor in paradise in his new home in the core Mexican wolf recovery area in eastern Arizona.

Anubis, as the wolf was named by seventh-grade students, left his birth pack in New Mexico in May and traveled 400 miles to the Coconino Plateau above Sedona — part of natural “dispersing” behavior to find a mate.

The Sedona Red Rock News reported about Anubis in June, when rare national forest closures gave the young wolf the full run of Coconino and Kaibab National Forests. This past winter, Anubis was captured and fitted with a radio collar allowing both wildlife officials and the public to track his whereabouts.

During his stay in Northern Arizona, Anubis survived extreme heat and drought, forest fires and a month with record rainfall. He also eluded at least one capture attempt early in the summer, when extreme heat hampered an opera­tion involving a helicopter.

But on Aug. 15, a biolo­gist successfully darted the 1-and-a-half-year-old wolf before officials transported and released him in Apache National Forest in eastern Arizona, “alive and well,” according to Jim deVos, Mexican wolf program coordinator for Arizona Game and Fish Department.

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