Press Release: Arizona Game & Fish Department Won't Let Wolves Be Wild

Anubis drawing

For immediate release: June 24, 2021

Media contacts:

Emily Renn, Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project (928) 202-1325
Cyndi Tuell, Western Watersheds Project (520) 272-2454
Jeff Meilander, area resident (928) 202-0588
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club-Grand Canyon Chapter, (602) 999-5790
Kelly Burke, Wild Arizona, (928) 606-7870


FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Conservation groups are voicing opposition today to the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s pursuit to capture a solitary Mexican gray wolf who has been living peacefully in the national forests north of Williams and Flagstaff for over a month. There have been no documented human or domestic animal conflicts with the wolf and the agency seems motivated simply by its insistence that wolves stay south of Interstate 40 for reasons that are wholly political rather than based in science. In addition, the agency’s relocation efforts pose a grave risk to this wolf in the context of active fire danger in the area.

“Arizona Game and Fish Department is unwilling to let wildlife be wild, apparently,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “This animal migrated into good habitat, is eating native prey, and is not causing any problems. Yet the agency is still determined to push the wolf back across an arbitrary political line.”

“We have long known that this area provides excellent habitat for wolves, and the wolves are proving that themselves by choosing to move here of their own accord,” said Emily Renn, executive director of Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project. “Our community appreciates the important ecological role wolves play and welcomes wolves back to our area. It is time for the agencies to acknowledge that wolves belong here and leave them alone.”

The wolf, named “Anubis” by seventh graders in an annual pup-naming contest, was born in spring 2020 to the Dark Canyon Pack of the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. It is natural for young wolves to disperse long distances and seek out new territories, and the habitat Anubis encountered north of I-40 contains abundant elk and good hiding cover. The Arizona Game & Fish Department has initiated and paid for the capture efforts underway so far, including expensive aerial efforts that entailed a plane and a helicopter last week.

“I would hate to see this wolf removed or relocated. My family and I understand that by living in the forest, we need to coexist with the animals who live here too,” said Jeff Meilander, a Baderville area resident and founder of the Flagstaff EcoRanch. “We are thrilled that one of the few wild wolves in Arizona has taken up residence here and think it’s incredibly cool that he is successfully hunting elk and adding to the biodiversity of Northern Arizona.”

“The Department has engaged in Mexican wolf recovery for many years, but this action is heavy-handed and reflects an unwillingness to let wild wolves be free,” said Cyndi Tuell, Arizona and New Mexico director of Western Watersheds Project. “Their management decisions here appear to be based on fear and politics rather than wolf behavior or science.”

Scientists have concluded that establishing a population of wolves in the Grand Canyon region of northern Arizona is necessary for Mexican gray wolf recovery as part of the larger recovery efforts throughout the Southwest. The agencies responsible for the reintroduction program have the opportunity right now under a court order to revise the management rule to allow dispersing wolves to move north of I-40 and contribute to recovery.

“This dispersing Mexican gray wolf has bravely ground-truthed much of a regional wildlife movement pathway that connects New Mexico’s wild Gila, across the Mogollon Rim into northern Arizona, and up to Grand Canyon,” said Kelly Burke, executive director of Wild Arizona. “He’s showing us that the science is right on wolf recovery. Let’s not set recovery back by this state agency’s misguided effort to capture him.”

The Coconino and Kaibab National Forests are currently closed to the public due to extreme fire risk. Violating national forest closures and fire restrictions carries a mandatory appearance in federal court, punishable as a Class B misdemeanor with a fine of up to $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, or up to six months in prison, or both.

Mexican gray wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Killing a Mexican wolf is a violation of the Federal Endangered Species Act and can result in criminal penalties of up to $50,000, and/or not more than one year in jail, and/or a civil penalty of up to $25,000.