Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Approved by the Interior Department

Defenders to pay ranchers for verified losses

(03/04/1997) - Phoenix, AZ and Washington, DC -- Defenders of Wildlife today hailed as "historic" the announced signing by Secretary Babbitt of the final record of decision that approves the reintroduction of the Mexican wolf to Arizona and New Mexico.

Defenders of Wildlife, a nonprofit conservation group that has worked extensively on this and other wolf restoration efforts, stressed the importance of returning the Mexican wolf to the wild soon because it is one of our most endangered native animals. Only 149 Mexican wolves survive today -- all in captivity. One key factor favoring reintroduction was Defenders' willingness to pay ranchers for any verified livestock losses to wolves through its $100,000 Wolf Compensation Trust. "The fact that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has moved so quickly and that Secretary Babbitt has signed off on this decision means that this magnificent animal could be returned to the wild as early as next winter," said Defenders' President Rodger Schlickeisen. "Wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho has proven to be a tremendous success, and I'm confident the same will hold true in the Southwest. This is another historic decision for wildlife by Secretary Babbitt. He's proven once again to be a friend to the wolf."

The Mexican wolf has been missing from the wild for 17 years, having been hunted, slaughtered, and brought to the brink of extinction. Craig Miller, Defenders' Southwest representative noted that, "For the past several decades, the only place to see a live Mexican wolf has been in a zoo. Most people in the Southwest agree that is not right and not natural."

Mexican wolf restoration has been in process since 1982 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) finalized the Mexican wolf recovery plan, jointly signed by the United States and Mexico. Last December, the FWS issued its final environmental impact statement regarding the Mexican wolf restoration project. Now, the decisive step has taken place with Secretary Babbitt signing the record of decision. Mexican wolves could be on the ground in Arizona as early as November or December.

The approved reintroduction calls for three to five family groups of Mexican wolves to be reintroduced to the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in Arizona near the New Mexico border. The White Sands area is also under consideration for future reintroduction.

Miller believes, "Public support throughout the Southwest for wolf reintroduction is overwhelming, just as it was for Yellowstone wolf restoration. There are concerns from ranchers about potential livestock losses, but most residents realize the important ecological benefits that will come from having the Mexican wolf back in its rightful home."

Nonetheless, Defenders of Wildlife has established the $100,000 Wolf Compensation Trust to pay ranchers for all verified livestock losses to wolves. Says Miller, "Wolves do not often kill livestock, but we understand ranchers' concerns. That's why those of us who support wolf reintroduction are willing to assume direct financial responsibility for wolf predation. For ranchers, it becomes a win-win situation."

According to the environmental impact statement, the economic impacts of wolf restoration will be favorable, and recent experience in the Yellowstone region bear this out. It was predicted that more than $20 million per year in additional tourism revenue would be added to the Yellowstone regional economy as a result of reintroducing wolves in the park.

Defenders of Wildlife has been the lead environmental group facilitating reintroduction of the wolf to Yellowstone and central Idaho, just as it has been for the Mexican wolf in the Southwest. In recent months, the group has also begun projects that could result in wolves being returned to their original habitats in Adirondack Park in New York and in Olympic National Park in Washington. A feasibility study is expected to begin this year regarding Adirondack Park reintroduction. A "Wolf Summit" conference is planned jointly by Defenders and Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) for April of this year on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state.

Schlickeisen concluded, "I believe we've turned the corner on people's attitude toward the wolf. Now the public is saying `we no longer believe Little Red Riding Hood -- the United States made a mistake in eliminating wolves, and now we want them back.' Returning wolves to ecosystems that still provide suitable habitat is the right thing to do. It is good for the ecosystems. The public wants them back. And it can help save from extinction one of the world's most endangered mammals."



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270