Flake is a fitting name. We need to get these types of officials into court soon while we still have wolves left.
Sen. Jeff Flake is seeking to remove federal Endangered Species Act protections from the Mexican gray wolves roaming Arizona and New Mexico.
Flake, R-Ariz., last week introduced a bill to lift the animals’ endangered status if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determines there are at least 100 wolves in the Blue Range recovery area overlapping the two states’ boundary.
At last count a year ago there were 113.
Shaking off federal protections would place wolves solely under state management. It’s an idea that Arizona ranchers have advocated to limit wolf kills of animals in livestock herds and to end federal regulation complications.
“This is the clear way to get out of the (federal) program and yet still have wolves on the ground,” said Patrick Bray, executive vice president of the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association.
Wolf advocates say such a low population would doom the wolves to extinction, as they already suffer in-breeding and illegal killings.
The 100-wolf threshold grew out of a 1982 recovery plan that the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote when there were no Mexican gray wolves living in the wild. The wolves, a smaller subspecies of the gray wolves roaming Yellowstone National Park and other northern regions, had disappeared from the Southwest and biologists had gathered the last handful from Mexico to start a captive breeding program.
Reintroduction began in 1998, when former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt was U.S. Interior secretary.
Last November the federal agency updated its recovery goal to 320 wolves in the U.S. At that time Flake called the plan “another federal regulatory nightmare” for ranchers.
Bray commended the senator for trying to rein in the program before the predator’s numbers explode.
“If (100 wolves) was good enough in 1982, it should be good enough in 2018,” Bray said.
Wolf advocates have long argued that the old 100-wolf goal was just a first benchmark to keep reintroduction expectations realistic, and had no scientific basis. Since then the science — including the biological basis for last year’s plan update — has indicated that 100 wolves cannot be self-sustaining, said Bryan Bird, Southwest program manager for Defenders of Wildlife.
Conservationists thought the new 320-wolf goal too low, he said, but the states supported it. Now, he argued, Flake wants to undo the agency’s experts and their compromises with the states.
“It’s politics instead of science,” Bird said. If protections are removed now, “The species would be virtually guaranteed to go extinct in the wild.”