Arizona wants a voice in wolf lawsuit

PHOENIX - The state of Arizona and Office of Arizona Attorney General filed a motion Sept. 1 to intervene in a lawsuit brought by several groups against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that challenges management of the Mexican gray wolf in Arizona and New Mexico.

Arizona Game and Fish Department took the action to defend the state's interests with respect to the Wildlife Service's revised rule for Mexican wolves.

The lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians and others in July alleges that U.S. Fish and Wildlife's cooperation with Arizona Game and Fish is a violation of federal law.

"The parameters in the revised rule use sound scientific principles and address critical stakeholder concerns, one of the primary obstacles to successfully reestablishing Mexican wolves," said Larry Voyles, director of the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

"The groups that filed the suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on this aspect of the reintroduction project lack an on-the-ground perspective of what changes will have the highest likelihood of success for Mexican wolves."

The Wildlife Service worked extensively with Arizona Game and Fish, as required by the Endangered Species Act, to develop the revised rule.

The goal of the agencies is to balance the needs and interests of the Mexican wolf reintroduction project, local stakeholders and all other wildlife species held in trust by the department. Changes in the rule greatly increase the contribution made within the Southwest to overall Mexican wolf recovery, Attorney General Mark Brnovich said.

"I trust Arizonans to determine what is best for our state and its wildlife," he said. "Game and Fish's motion to intervene will help ensure we manage the reintroduction of the Mexican wolf in a manner that best conserves the species while protecting the property rights and interests of Arizonans."

One criticism of the new rule concerns expansion of the area to be occupied by Mexican wolves. In recommending the expansion by more than eight times its previous size, the department used extensive biological studies to guide its recommendation for westward expansion of wolves in Arizona.

Critics also disagree with the population objective defined in the new rule, although it is more than triple the population goal defined in the current Mexican wolf management plan. The population objective for Arizona is an important component of Mexican wolf recovery, but full recovery must incorporate Mexico as well, given that 90 percent of the historical habitat for Mexican wolves is south of the border.