The Arizona House has approved a bill to strip the state of its authority to regulate Mexican Gray wolves — with potentially confusing impacts on the effort to reintroduce the endangered species.

Rep. Dave Cook (R-Globe) sponsored the bill, which would have no immediate impact on wolf management — since the federal government’s already controlling the effort to restore the Mexican gray wolf to a sprawling area in New Mexico and Arizona south of Interstate 40.

House Bill 181 is a strike-all bill which means that new language is inserted into an existing bill on a different subject, then hurried to the House floor.

It passed with on a bipartisan vote, with Democratic District 7 representatives from Navajo Nation — Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren (D-Red Mesa) and Myron Tsosie (D-Chinle) in support.

San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman wrote a letter supporting the bill, arguing that it would give the tribes more control over the wolf on their lands — including an ability to kill wolves killing livestock.

The bill must still pass the Senate and receive Gov. Doug Ducey’s approval to take effect.

However, conservation groups oppose the bill — arguing it would make it impossible for Arizona Game and Fish to prevent people from killing the wolves if they ever recover enough to come off the endangered species list.

Cook is a Globe rancher who has said he will run in the redrawn state Legislative District 7.

Rep. Brenda Barton (R-Payson) and Rep. John Fillmore (R-Apache Junction) have also said they will run in the redrawn, safe Republican district — setting up a hotly contested primary. Rep. Walt Blackman (R-Snowflake) is not running for re-election so he can challenge Congressman Tom O’Halleran (D-Oak Creek) for the redrawn Congressional District 2 seat.

Cook said he introduced the bill to prevent any potential confusion about which agency can regulate the wolves, ensuring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) experts will remain in charge.

However, conservationists argue that the bill will likely spawn more confusion than clarity. They noted that Game and Fish has partnered with USFWS in the reintroduction effort and has proposed no conflicting regulations.

Instead, critics of the bill suggest it’s really intended to prevent effective management of the wolves in the state if the reintroduction effort succeeds.

More than 100 wolves have been killed illegally since the expensive reintroduction effort began in 1998.

Ranchers have complained that the wolves often kill livestock. The federal government has a program to pay ranchers for livestock killed by wolves, but many ranchers say the program does not cover their costs.

Conservationists argue that ranchers have refused to adapt to the presence of the wolves to reduce losses, including keeping close watch of herds in the wild, fencing, penning cows at night, electric fencing and keeping calves in pens or protected pastures until they’re less attractive prey for wolves.

The USFWS also already kills or removes wolves that pose a danger to livestock, pets and people.

Groups like the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and others oppose the proposed restrictions on Arizona’s Game and Fish mostly out of fear it would leave the state unable to protect the wolves in the event the federal government declares the population recovered.

Studies have shown that hunters have killed about a third of the gray wolves in Wisconsin, since the federal government delisted them there several years ago.

Once the federal protections expired, hunters went after the wolves and reduced their numbers from 1,034 in 2020 to about 700 in 2021.

The same thing has happened to recovered gray wolf populations in other western states.

The 2021 census of the Mexican gray wolves counted 72 wolves in Arizona and 114 in New Mexico.

Another 350 wolves live in captive breeding programs.

The numbers of wolves in the wild have roughly doubled in the past five years. Killings by humans remain the biggest threat to the wolves, studies suggest.

Conservationist groups and some Mexican gray wolf biologists have pushed the USFWS to expand the reintroduction area for the “experimental” population of the Mexican gray wolf, arguing the wolves could establish separate, viable populations north of the Grand Canyon and in other wilderness areas.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com

(2) comments

Russ_in_WML

Hallelujah!

trevhall93

These radical environmental groups are inept. Can you imagine the impossible task of riding and gathering hundreds, sometimes thousands of acres driving cattle miles to corals and penning hundreds of head every night??? This isn’t the east where is cows per acre, It’s cows per section in the west. Wolf lovers are nothing but common thieves.

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