Wandering Wolf Would Lose Protections Under Federal Plan
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz.— For the first time since the 1940s, a gray wolf is roaming the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The wolf, which is wearing an inactive radio collar, is likely a gray wolf that dispersed from the northern Rocky Mountains. The intrepid wolf is currently fully protected under the Endangered Species Act, which prohibits killing, wounding or harassing the animal and provides other protections. However, those protections could be stripped under the Obama administration’s proposed plan to remove wolves from the list of protected species.
“I'm absolutely thrilled that a wolf managed to travel so far to reclaim the Grand Canyon as a home for wolves,” said Michael Robinson, a wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This wolf's journey starkly highlights the fact that wolf recovery is still in its infancy and that these important and magnificent animals continue to need Endangered Species Act protections.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service repeatedly sought to remove endangered species protections for wolves. The latest proposal, which the agency scheduled to be finalized late this year, would eliminate protections for the Grand Canyon wolf and likely erase any chance it will be joined by a potential mate from the north.
“In the early 1900s over 30 wolves on the North Kaibab, including Grand Canyon National Park, were killed by government hunters,” said Kim Crumbo, conservation director for Grand Canyon Wildlands Council. “The possibility that a determined wolf could make it to the Canyon region is cause for celebration, and we must insist that every effort be taken to protect this brave wanderer.”
“Wolves like this one at the Grand Canyon and OR-7 demonstrate that, when protected, wolves will naturally recolonize their native habitats, restoring balance to wounded landscapes,” said Drew Kerr, carnivore advocate with WildEarth Guardians. “Without Endangered Species Act protections, however, wolves will likely be relegated to a few National Parks in a tiny portion of their historic range.”
Wolves have returned to less than 10 percent of their historic range in the lower 48 states. Scientists identified the Grand Canyon ecosystem as one of three in the Southwest, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area where Mexican gray wolves now roam and the southern Rocky Mountains, capable of supporting a robust and ecologically viable wolf population. Such populations, linked to each other through wolves’ famous propensity to wander, would help avoid extinction and ensure the species’ recovery.
In other regions, including the Pacific Northwest, wolves that dispersed from their natal packs have successfully found new homes and established new populations. Wolves face intense hostility and persecution in many areas, which would likely increase without legal protections.
The biological phenomenon called a trophic cascade describes benefits that flow through an ecosystem because of an apex carnivore’s return. Wolves cause deer and elk herds to move more naturally, preventing overgrazing of streamside habitats. This permits the reestablishment of shade trees and bushes, like native aspen, cottonwood and willow, providing improved habitat for fish, beavers and songbirds. Even other large carnivores, like grizzly bears, benefit from the wolves’ return.