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State files motion to intervene in lawsuit over wolf recovery program

PHOENIX – The state has filed a motion to involve itself in a lawsuit in which environmental groups allege that federal officials are failing to abide by the Endangered Species Act and environmental and administrative laws in a recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves.

The motion, filed in a case brought by WildEarth Guardians,  New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and Friends of Animals, declares Arizona as a party with an interest in the case.

Submitted by Attorney General Mark Brnovich, the motion says Arizona has the right to defend a revised U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cited in the lawsuit because its interest “is so situated that, without intervention, the disposition of the action may impair or impede its ability to protect that interest.”

The Mexican gray wolf once was common across the Southwest but was hunted to extinction in Arizona by ranchers protecting their herds. In 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state officials began reintroducing wolves to eastern Arizona, sparking protests in the years since from ranchers fearing predation and from environmentalists who say officials aren’t doing enough.

At last count, the reintroduced population had reached 110.

The groups sued in July, alleging that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to determine whether the reintroduced wolves, considered an experimental population, are essential to the existence of the species in the wild, hasn’t relied on the best available science and information and through revised regulations governing the recovery program has failed to provide for the conservation of the wolf in terms of population allowed, geographic restrictions and circumstances under which killing wolves is allowed.

The lawsuit also contends that federal officials have failed to abide by environmental and administrative laws in developing the revised regulations.

Under the recovery plan, private landowners are allowed to kill wolves that attack cattle. Wolves also can be removed or exterminated for killing too many elk or deer.

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Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, said she isn’t surprised that Arizona is intervening in the case.

“It looks like they are trying in every way to hinder wolf recovery,” she said.

Mike Rabe, who oversees the state’s role in the wolf recovery program for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said his agency is doing its best to work with various groups that have concerns about the recovery effort.

“We are trying to thread the needle between stakeholders while doing what is best for this species and ecosystems in Arizona,” he said.

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Gary Kramer/Fish and Wildlife