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AZ: County joins group for Mexican wolf issue

Supervisors seek a voice with the federal government


BISBEE — Cochise County is joining five other counties to have more of a voice when it comes to reviewing various decisions and processes of the federal government.

Members of the Board of Supervisors, Pat Call, Ann English and Richard Searle, voted unanimously to join the Eastern Arizona Counties Organization (ECO) which includes Apache, Gila, Graham, Greenlee and Navajo counties. ECO states its primary function is to implement “best practices” and protect the interests of participating county residents. ECO states it offers scientific, economic, social and cultural information, along with other data, for analysis that will help guide decision-making in resource management, social preservation, enhancing economic stability and growth.

“They are very involved with forest uses and fire management and are one of two organizations that can get financial aid from the state,” said Searle.

Searle will serve as one of the county’s representatives on theECO governing board.

The cost to Cochise County is $5,000 annually.

Mexican gray wolf recovery program

For months, county supervisors have questioned the decision to return the Mexican gray wolf to the United States, and especially Cochise County. Currently, there are wolf packs established in Mexico and some in the central Arizona district known as the Blue Range.

Cochise County officials have repeatedly asked for local meetings with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the wolf recovery program and habitat expansion. Supervisors argue the wolves could affect ranchers and residents alike.

The supervisors contracted with Darling Geomatics Consultants’ Mary Darling who went through the history of the wolf recovery program and Mexico’s breeding stock that was infused by Mexican wolves bred with dogs to widen the gene pool. That creates a sub-breed that she says may not be a protected species.

Darling notes, “Cochise County and Sierra Vista are opposed to any expansion of the Mexican wolf program because: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has failed to meet its legal obligations to mitigate damages to date; the genetics of the Mexican wolf are still in question; USFWS failed to perform an adequate National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis of impacts of its proposed expansion; and a number of other legal violations.”

Darling also brought up the issue of wolves feeding on cattle where deer and elk populations are diminished.

Her 189-page document draws a correlation of the original intent of the program started in 1982 in which the wolves at a breeding facility in the U.S. would be expatriated to Mexico for pack expansion in the wolves’ historic range.

The goal was to establish 100 wolves in the Mexican recovery area and that has been met, Darling’s report states.

“The goals recorded were for 100 wolves and 5,000 square miles of habitat. Those goals have been exceeded,” she writes. “There are at least 83 Mexican wolves in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (BRWRA) plus the 2014 pups plus adult and young of the year. The Fort Apache Indian Reservation has an unknown number of uncounted wolves.”

She commended USFWS for reaching the goal of 100 wolves in the wild and managing Mexican wolves within areas between 8,888 and 9,839 square miles and exceeding the recovery goals.

“Therefore, the recovery plan goal for captive wolves was met and more than doubled,” Darling wrote. “Now that the USFWS has accomplished their recovery goal in the U.S., they should turn to Mexico and assist that country in raising their Mexican wolf population number to at least 100 wolves. This would be less costly and more biologically sound since this is the core habitat for this subspecies. Ninety percent of the historical habitat for Mexican wolves is in Mexico. Ninety percent of the recovery should be in Mexico.”

The entire commentary researched by Darling was approved by the supervisors to be forwarded on to the USFWS.