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CLIFTON — It isn’t the wolf at the door that has residents of Arizona and New Mexico worried, rather it’s the federal government.
The program to reintroduce the Mexican gray wolf into portions of the desert Southwest of the United States was the focus of a legislative hearing hosted by state Representatives David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, and David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, and state Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, at the Greenlee County Board of Supervisors meeting room Saturday.
“The (Founding Fathers) believed in local government. This is local government and we’re going to do our darnedest to protect your livelihoods,” Gowan said. “It’s appalling to see this, and it’s our own government that did this.”
Almost 50 residents and elected officials of Greenlee, Graham and Apache counties in Arizona and Catron County, N.M., were on hand to offer input on the issue. Also taking part was Larry Voyles, director of Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Almost everyone in attendance was opposed to expansion of the wolf reintroduction program, citing attacks on ranch animals and reduced deer and elk populations for hunting since the program began in 1998.
“It’s an experimental program; how long does an experiment have to go? It’s been 15 years. The debate should be: Are we going to continue this experiment?” said Jeff Menges, who ranches in Graham and Greenlee counties.
The current program calls for a threshold of “no less than” 100 Mexican gray wolves to be in the wilds of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently tracks 75 wolves via collars, but Pascal Berlioux, executive director of the Eastern Arizona Counties Organization, said it’s likely the number of wolves in the wild could be 120 to 125.
“The Mexican wolf will eat 10 pounds of meat per day, and even a pack won’t eat all the edible meat of an elk. Taking into account that about 70 percent of an elk has edible meat, 100 wolves would need 1 million tons of live elk on the hoof. That’s about 1,500 to 2,500 elk each year, not counting cattle or other animals the wolves might attack,” Berlioux said.
Voyles explained that U.S. Fish and Wildlife has no current plans to hold a public scoping meeting in Arizona. Meetings are scheduled for Albuquerque, N.M., Sacramento, Calif., Washington, D.C., and Denver.
“Maybe that’s where we should release these wolves, in Washington and Sacramento,” Gail Griffin said.
That prompted members of the audience — including Greenlee County Supervisors Ron Campbell and Robert Corbell, Catron County Commissioners Van “Bucky” Allred and Glyn Griffin, and Apache County Supervisor Barry Weller — to praise the three Arizona legislators for holding the hearing in Clifton.
Darcy Ely spoke on behalf of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association, saying the “trust has totally been taken down” between residents and the federal government over the program.
“We believe the states need to be in charge of the program,” Ely said, while Campbell said it’s the goal of Greenlee County “to end the program” and has been at the forefront of the issue for more than two decades.
“At times, we felt like the little boy who cried wolf,” Campbell said. “The environmental groups are working together on this (but) the opposition has not. We need to come together.”
A number of speakers — including Gowan — questioned the constitutionality of federal authority when it comes to the recovery program, saying they believe states have the right to reject the program under the 10th Amendment, which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Only one speaker — Susan Breen, of Clifton — didn’t express a negative opinion of the wolf reintroduction program. She called herself “an outsider” on the issue and didn’t offer an opinion on the issue; instead, she was critical of the legislators’ recent votes in opposition to expansion of Medicaid.
Gail Griffin said the comments from the hearing, as well as comments from other hearings held throughout southeastern Arizona, would form the basis of a resolution of opposition to the wolf program that she, Gowan and Stevens would introduce when the Legislature convenes in January.
She also said the three legislators will sign on to comments to the environmental impact study being conducted in conjunction with the reauthorization of the program, saying the program is formed by “flawed science” and “faulty data.”
“U.S. Fish and Wildlife and its supporters should be ashamed,” Gail Griffin said.