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Gray Wolf Confirmed Near Grand Canyon
Friday, November 21, 2014
Gray Wolf Confirmed Near Grand Canyon
Wanderer From the Northern Rockies is First of its Kind in Northern Arizona Since 1940s
Contact: Drew Kerr (312) 375-6104
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, ARIZ—The American West just became a little wilder; the U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) confirmed that the animal spotted near theNorth Rim of the Grand Canyon and Kaibab National Forest in northern Arizona isa gray wolf. After collecting and testing scat samples from the wolf, theService believes it is a lone female that originated from the Northern Rockies.After traveling at least 450 miles on her own, this intrepid wanderer deservesa warm welcome back to a part of the country that has been missing its nativeapex carnivore for some seventy years.
“We are overjoyed that she made it through hundreds of milesof politically hostile territory to rediscover an important part of herhistoric range,” said Drew Kerr, carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians.“This is a bellwether event for wolf recovery in the United States.”
Rumors about the wolf began circulating in early Octoberafter members of the public spotted her repeatedly around the Kaibab Plateaunear Grand Canyon National Park. News broke about her existence on October 30.Federal and state wildlife managers quickly confirmed the wolf’s presence,stating they were exercising precaution and treating her as fully protectedunder the federal Endangered Species Act.
The Service initially planned to capture the wolf andconfirm its identity through a blood test, expediting a revised federallyrequired permit for the project. Although a blood test no longer appears necessary,federal managers have not ruled out conducting a field capture to replace thewolf’s inoperative radio collar. Conservationists are concerned that a riskylate-season field capture threatens the wolf’s safety and may result in herinjury or death. Government agencies have killed nineteen critically endangeredMexican wolves in botched live-capture operations.
“We are thrilled that an iconic American species succeededin finding sanctuary in an iconic American national park,” continued Kerr. “Nowthe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must leverage an iconic Americanenvironmental law to safeguard her from human threats.”
While the news offers hope for the ongoing recovery ofwolves throughout the western United States, it contrasts starkly with federaland state efforts to prematurely remove legal protections for the species underthe Endangered Species Act.
“This confirmation bolsters our calls for the U.S. Fish andWildlife Service to abandon its plans to strip legal protections from gray wolves,”said Kerr. “The species has only returned to ten percent of its native rangeand still faces illogical hostility and illegal killing wherever wolves roam.“
In 2011, Congress passed a rider to a must-pass federalappropriations bill legislatively removing legal protections for the species inparts of the Northern Rockies and Midwest. Since then, the Service has beentrying to finalize plans to delist gray wolves nationwide. Americans submittedover 1.5 million comments opposing the government’s plan to leave wolvesunprotected by the Endangered Species Act.
If federal delisting passes, the Grand Canyon wolf and otherdispersers—including the intrepid OR-7, who traveled over 1,000 miles throughOregon and northern California before finding a mate and establishing the firstwolf pack in southern Oregon in ninety years—would be stripped of federalprotections and once more at the mercy of guns and traps once more.
Wolves have returned to less than ten percent of their historic range in the contiguousUnited States. Scientists identified the Grand Canyon ecosystem as one of threein the Southwest—along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Blue RangeWolf Recovery Area where endangered Mexican gray wolves roam, and the SouthernRockies—which are capable of supporting a robust and ecologically viable wolfpopulation. Wolf populations linked through the species’ famous propensity towander help avoid extinction and ensure the species’ recovery.
In other regions, including the Pacific Northwest, wolvesthat dispersed from their natal pack successfully found new homes, establishingnew packs and breeding populations. In early October, a young male wolf fromthe Northern Rockies’ Border pack traveled from northern Idaho to northeastUtah’s Uinta Mountains before its radio collar ceased transmitting and wildlifemanagers lost its signal. Wolves face intense hostility and persecution in manyareas, which would likely increase without legal protections.
The biological phenomenon called a trophic cascade describesbenefits that flow top-down through an ecosystem because of an apex carnivore’sreturn. Wolves cause deer and elk herds to resume more natural behaviors likemoving more frequently and avoiding certain areas, which helps preventovergrazing of some sensitive habitats. This permits the reestablishment ofshade trees and bushes to damaged riparian areas and aspen groves, providingimproved habitat for other species. Even other carnivore populations respond tothe wolves’ return, as grizzly bears benefit from their kills and coyotenumbers are balanced by their presence.