It seemed fitting that the governor of Arizona vetoed Senate Bill 1211 last Tuesday, Earth Day. The bill, which would have allowed ranchers and their employees to kill a wolf on federal land if caught harming or killing livestock, spent the last three months making its way through committees and both houses of the legislature. Citizens voiced their opinions, both for and against the proposed legislation, in calls and emails to state lawmakers and in letters to the editors of local newspapers.
Mexican gray wolves, reintroduced in Arizona in 1998, are protected by the Endangered Species Act, which also governs the reintroduction program. In her veto letter Governor Brewer reiterated her support of states’ rights, but also recognized that SB1211 would have conflicted with federal law and called the bill unnecessary.
Meanwhile, oblivious to the battle in the Arizona statehouse, the Bluestem Pack continued to run and hunt halfway across the state in the White Mountains. The most recent monthly report (dated April 24th and prepared by the field team that monitors the wolves’ activity) located the alpha pair, a juvenile male, and six pups born in 2013 just south of Big Lake, part of their traditional territory in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.
During March the field team also conducted a predation study and found two elk carcasses that had recently been killed and eaten by the pack. In twelve years of living in the wild, the Bluestem Pack has seldom harassed or killed livestock.
One exception occurred last November when the wolves killed a cow. The incident, reported by a rancher, was investigated by the field team and was assigned, based on radio telemetry reports, to AF1042 (the alpha female) and m1275 (the two-year-old male). Although I don’t know the details, the rancher was likely reimbursed for his monetary loss.
The outcome could have been very different had a law like SB1211 been in place at the time of the depredation. The two wolves, if caught, could have been shot on sight, no questions asked, leaving the pack without their alpha (breeding) female. Instead, the Bluestem Pack still runs, intact, and has not killed any more livestock.
It is the season for new litters of Mexican wolf pups, typically born in April or May. Soon we’ll find out if the Bluestem Pack has any new members.
Note: On April 23, 2014 Governor Brewer also vetoed House Bill 2699, a similar bill to SB1211.