What's a wolf to do? Go vegan, apparently

The Arizona Republic (Original) Editorial Posted on January 16, 2015 by the Editorial Board

Our View: New federal regulations bend over backwards to favor anti-wolf factions. Why would they compromise now?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's new rules for Mexican gray wolf recovery offers a frustrating one-step-forward, two-steps-back approach. Not surprisingly, it's being met with a lawsuit from environmental groups.

The federal agency would have been wiser to do right by the wolves instead of bowing to those who have long opposed reintroduction.

But no. Under the new rule, wolves can be killed for eating "unacceptable" numbers of elk and deer.

What's unacceptable? The feds let state wildlife agencies in Arizona and New Mexico define that.

Who speaks loudest to those agencies? Hunters, some of whom say there are already too many four-legged predators competing for the trophies they want.

The new rules also make it easier to kill wolves if they take livestock, never mind that there is a program to compensate ranchers for cattle taken by wolves.

So no trophy species and no cows. Maybe they can go vegan.

In addition to increased options to kill wolves, this rule sets a cap of 300 to 325 wolves, far less than biologists say is necessary for a sustainable population.

A new lawsuit from environmentalists will be in addition to the one filed by the Center for Biological Diversity last year. It demanded the agency develop a recovery plan — also long overdue — that should act as a blueprint for restoring this species.

Benjamin Tuggle, the Fish and Wildlife Service's southwest regional director, wouldn't tell reporters when to expect that recovery plan. He said it is "in sight of being initiated."

Three teams over three decades have worked on recovery plans, says Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. But the feds never released a plan. The words "stalling" and "politics" come to mind.

In this new rule, Fish and Wildlife says "management flexibility is needed to make reintroduction compatible with ... human activities, such as livestock grazing and hunting."

Flexibility is good. The goal is not to bankrupt ranchers or deprive hunters of their sport. But bending over backwards to appease the most vocal anti-wolf interests is counterproductive.

Public sentiment supports wolf reintroduction. Species diversity is a national goal eloquently expressed in the Endangered Species Act. That should be the top priority.

Since the first releases in 1998, Mexican wolves have shown the ability to move into their old niche — setting up territories, reproducing and eating their native prey.

But many wolves have been killed or removed from the wild because of perceived conflicts with ranchers. The current population of at least 83 wolves is still below the original goal of 100 wolves by 2003.

It's time for the anti-wolf factions to compromise, but this action by the Fish and Wildlife emboldens them to do just the opposite.

The rules do some good. They expand the area where wolves can roam, and increase the areas where captive bred wolves can be released into the wild. They also reclassify our Mexican wolves as a separate endangered subspecies.

These positive steps advance reintroduction. But the backward movement was an unnecessary effort to appease groups unlikely to ever support this effort.