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AZ: County Site Considered For Gray Wolf Reintroduction

By Nolan Madden

A meeting was held this week to establish release sites for the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf into Navajo County, District III Supervisor Jason Whiting advised fellow supervisors and staff on Tuesday.

“We’ve been hearing about it for a long time, but last night I attended a local meeting regarding some release sites that are being looked at for Navajo County. So, while wolves may have migrated into the county, now they can actually release some here,” said Whiting.

He explained that, according to a preliminary map, the release site is being eyed in the Heber-Overgaard area.

The update follows the county’s years-long battle to ban the wolves’ release locally, with the five eastern counties of Arizona expending much effort to restrict the wolves from the federal government’s endangered species listings as a matter of public safety.

In May 2008, the Board of Supervisors passed the Navajo County Predatory Animal Ordinance, which prohibited the release of wolves in the county, and specified criminal penalties and fines up to $300 and $1,000 for individual and enterprise violations, respectively.

In November 2013, then-District III Supervisor Sylvia Allen asked citizens and council members in her district to make comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in response to a proposed revision to the Endangered Species Act regarding the Mexican Wolf that would expand its territory into most of Arizona, including Navajo County, and New Mexico.

“The problem with wolves being introduced is because the first pairs of Mexican Wolves were raised in cages with people feeding them. Wolves were very desensitized to people because they were used to people feeding them,” she said at the time.

Later, in October 2014, the Arizona Game and Fish Department pushed for the federal government to create a management plan for the wolves, following the county Board of Supervisors’ complaints against the USFWS’ lack of cooperation with state and local governments in creating a plan for managing the wolves.

A lawsuit followed on Nov. 12, 2014, filed against the USFWS by a group of conservation and environmental protection advocates “for repeated failures over the last 38 years to develop a valid recovery plan for the imperiled Mexican gray wolf, one of the most endangered mammals in North America,” The Tribune-News reported at the time.

The game and fish department issued a notice of intent in January 2015 to sue the federal agency over the plan, or the lack thereof.

Fish and Wildlife Services that month unveiled a final environmental impact study related to the agency’s proposal to release wolves throughout most of Arizona and New Mexico, noting that the two states would be divided into three separate management zones, all south of Interstate 40, with releases taking place in stages over a period of 12 years.

Whiting expressed his confidence that the process is progressing well at this point.

“I think the mutual understanding for this project is that transparency is key. The intention is that they want to be transparent according to the law of the land,” he said.

In other action Feb. 9, the board:
* Heard a presentation by Jim Hillibrecht regarding Sue’s Crew, a one-day, 30-mile walk planned for May 14.
* Approved administrative personnel actions, as well as a policy revision regarding transfer of annual employee leave hours. This revision combines the CARE Bank and direct donation process policies, allowing for tighter restrictions on receiving leave donations while still being fair to county employees.
* Approved the receipt of an Arizona Department of Public Safety Victims of Crime Act Assistance grant, which funds the salary of two victim advocates, a victim services manager and a new position of crisis response coordinator. These positions deliver services to victims of crime ranging from misdemeanors to felonies. The crisis response coordinator will work with victims on-the-spot of incidents, providing referrals to services and steering victims through the justice system.
* Entered into executive session to receive legal advice from its attorney regarding possible action of pending litigation in Berger v. White Mountain Lake County Recreation Improvement District.
The WMLCRID Board of Directors was served with a summons, verified complaint, arbitration certificate and request for permanent injunction on Feb. 2.
The Board of Supervisors approved the hiring of legal counsel and the use of funds for this case.
* Approved the consent agenda, including Jan. 26, 2016, regular and executive session meeting minutes, warrant and voucher reports over $1,000 for January 2016, new lodging per diem rates to match the state rates and the January 2016 constable report for Show Low Precinct No. 5.

The sale of three back tax land parcels in the amount of $2,940.01 was approved.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office was approved to represent Navajo County in Transwestern Pipeline v. Arizona Department of Revenue and Navajo County. The county has been named as a party to a tax appeal involving centrally assessed property valued by the ADOR. The property is located in whole or in part in Navajo County. The AG’s Office needs permission from the Board of Supervisors to represent the county in connection with this tax appeal for tax year 2016.

A memorandum of understanding/resource sharing agreement between Northeastern Arizona Innovative Workforce Solutions and Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act Partners was approved. With the program change from “WIA” to “Workforce Information Opportunity Act” beginning July 1, 2016, and the merger of Gila County into the NEAZIWS program at that time, it became necessary to create a new agreement between NEAZIWS and all partners.

Also approved was the appointment of Gary Moore as NEAZIWS co-chair, as requested by current Chair Don Berry.

Reissuance of stale dated checks was approved. Treasurer’s checks were issued to various taxpayers and investors for overpayment of taxes and commercial paper redemptions, respectively. These items were never received or cashed, and, after verification, were voided to be reissued.

The next regular board meeting will be held at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at the county complex in Holbrook.