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GOP legislators want to remove gray wolf from endangered list

 A group GOP lawmakers wants to send a postcard of sorts urging Congress to remove the endangered species designation for the gray wolf, including a subspecies reintroduced in Arizona in 1998.

Pointing to complaints that gray wolves in Montana and other states have decimated moose and elk herds, a memorial authored by Rep. Jerry Weiers, R-Glendale, says Arizona would benefit from having complete oversight of recovery efforts for the Mexican gray wolf.

The House Committee on Energy and Natural Resources endorsed the measure Monday on a 7-2 vote, with Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson, and Rep. Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson, dissenting.

Facing extinction, the gray wolf became protected under the Endangered Species Act in the 1970s. It was reintroduced to the northern Rockies and parts of the Southwest, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had great success restoring wolves in the Rockies, with a population of 1,700 at last count well beyond the goal of 300.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife has proposed de-listing the northern Rockies population of wolves, but that's been blocked by court rulings. A candidate for U.S. Senate in Montana has proposed having Congress de-list all gray wolves, including the subspecies in Arizona.

Weiers' memorial, which has more than 40 GOP primary and co-sponsors, calls the reintroduction of Mexican gray wolves in Arizona a failure because litigation by wildlife advocates has blocked federal officials from removing wolves that prey on livestock.

The Mexican gray wolf was reintroduced into the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, which includes east-central Arizona and west-central New Mexico. Around 50 Mexican gray wolves now live in the area, sometimes drawing ire of cattle ranchers.

Patrick Bray, a lobbyist for the Arizona Cattlemen's Association, said ranchers here can empathize with concerns raised in Montana. He called the wolves "devastating" to livestock.

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"We are in the business of keeping cattle alive," Bray told the committee.

Suzanne Gilstrap, a representative of Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife, said wolves should be managed like other animals before they begin to kill other wildlife.

"We don't want to see what happened in the northern Rockies happen to our state," Giltrap said.

Although the Arizona Game and Fish Commission hasn't endorsed the memorial, it does support the national movement to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list.

"It isn't necessarily because we felt the wolf was recovered," Lynda Lambert, a Game and Fish Department spokeswoman, said in a phone interview. "There has been a lot of gridlock, and we feel it would be more beneficial if they were de-listed."

In voting against the measure, Patterson said he's concerned that removing gray wolves from the endangered species list would decimate Mexican gray wolves.

"We know there is no state law that would provide protection," he said.

Wheeler said he doubted the livestock industry's claims that 50 wolves could decimate enough cattle to cause a significant economic impact.

"How can 50 gray wolves threaten the existence of other livestock in Arizona?" he said.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter, said removing protection from the Mexican gray wolf doesn't make sense.

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"This animal still teeters on the brink of extinction," Bahr told the committee. "Basically it is signing their death warrant."

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Federal officials began reintroducing the Mexican gray wolf to Arizona in 1998.

Facts about the Mexican gray wolf

  • Subspecies of gray wolf.
  • Reintroduced in Arizona in 1998.
  • About 50 now live in the forest of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico.
  • Packs range from three to five wolves.
  • Average litter is four pups, with a 50 percent mortality rate.