By DAVID LOUIS
The gray wolf’s recovery was never going to be easy, but an obscure congressional committee’s recent actions may make things even tougher.
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies subcommittee released a funding bill this week that includes a rider that blocks all funding for Endangered Species Act protections and recovery efforts for all gray wolves in the lower 48 states.
It’s unclear what the bill would mean for the endangered Mexican gray wolves that once could be found in the southwest, including Mohave County, but the bill accepts the nearly 17 percent cut in endangered species funding proposed in President Trump’s budget.
While the bill faces a long legislative journey, it has raised the concerns of animal conservation groups including Washington D.C. based Defenders of Wildlife. Environmentalists fear the bill will gut vital all protections for the nation’s natural heritage and wildlife, especially endangered species such as the gray wolf.
“If passed, this will hobble the recovery efforts,” said Bryan Bird, Defenders’ southwest program director. “It’s really an insidious approach to stop something important.”
The draft document calls for focusing recovery efforts of Mexican wolves in core areas of the predators’ historic range in Arizona and New Mexico. The geographic area runs west to east along Interstate 40 in both states and south in a binational effort across into Mexico.
There are an estimated 113 wolves roaming parts of Arizona and New Mexico including 35 in Mexico.
First introduced between Alpine and Hannagan Meadow, Arizona, in 1998, the recovery strategy now is to establish and maintain at least two resilient, genetically diverse populations with a minimum of 325 wolves in order to down list the species from endangered to threatened.
The primary objective of the recovery plan is to correct the issues from inbreeding by identifying genetically diverse animals held in captivity and introduce them or their pups into wild populations.
Conservationists fear for the future of the recovery plan. If funding dries up it could result in the Arizona and New Mexico wolf population inbreeding themselves out of existence.
“There is a very good chance this will happen,” Bird said. “Unfortunately, if the federal government stops funding the recovery program the responsibility will completely fall to the states which is a problem for the Mexican gray wolf because New Mexico has been extremely hostile to the recovery efforts with Arizona being a little less hostile … but if Arizona stops receiving federal funding I don’t know how long they would continue to participate in the recovery activities.”
Conservationists say this bill signals a continuing effort to weaken ESA protections.
“Since January 2015, there have been more than 150 bills, riders and amendments introduced in Congress that would weaken the Endangered Species Act,” said Jared Saylor, Defenders’ vice president of communications.
“Attacks on the ESA threaten our nation’s ability to protect and preserve endangered species for future generations. The Act is not broken and does not need fixing. Rather than focusing on so-called ‘modernization’ of a law that works, Congress should improve the law’s implementation by fully funding recovery efforts for endangered species.”