Mexican Gray Wolves Bills

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A bill has been introduced that would authorize employees of the Arizona Department of Agriculture to kill endangered Mexican gray wolves that have been preying on livestock. Two other bills relating to that issue have been introduced. Sandy Bahr, chapter director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club and Bas Aja, executive vice president of the Arizona Cattle Feeders’ Association, will discuss the pros and cons of the bills.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. A statehouse committee today approved a bill to roll back Medicaid expansion, which was approved just eight months ago. State representative Adam Kwasman sponsored the bill saying the state can't afford it. Representative Juan Mendez called the bill a quote sad attempt at campaigning. Kwasman is running for Congress in district one. House speaker Andy Tobin is also in that district one race. Earlier today, Tobin's attempts to slow down the use of Medicaid by able-bodied individuals was also approved by committee. A bill has been introduced in the state legislature that would authorize employees of the Arizona department of agriculture to kill endangered Mexican gray wolves that prey on livestock. Two other bills relating to that issue have also been introduced. Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Bas Aja, executive vice president of the Arizona Cattle Feeders' Association are here to discuss the issue. Good to have you both here. Thank you for joining us.

Sandy Bahr: Nice to be here

Bas Aja: Thank you.

Ted Simons: SB 1211, what does it say?

Sandy Bahr: Basically it says what you talked about it saying. It says it authorizes an employee of the department of agriculture to kill endangered Mexican gray wolves if they have been preying on livestock. It is unconstitutional. It's contrary to federal law. It is unethical, and it is also irresponsible of the legislature to encourage an employee of the state to break the law. And, so, we think that this bill needs to die a quick death in the legislature.

Ted Simons: Why is this bill in this manner necessary?

Bas Aja: Well, Ted, you know, the issue is very complex. When you deal with an issue that has nature, has people, it's got government programs, it's got lack of transparency, it's got distrust. It's got wild animals and wild areas. It is not as easy as some people think. Quite frankly, we are looking for management tools. One of the managers in the program is the United States Department of Agriculture, Arizona Department of Agriculture, Arizona Game and Fish, and this is a tool that is used throughout the world in and sometimes they have to euthanized.

Sandy Bahr: There are only 83 wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. They're still listed as endangered. They're not recovered. They're far from being recovered. And it is not a management tool that we use with endangered species. There are lots of other tools to use. There are ways to avoid conflicts. There is a program that helps ranchers avoid those conflicts. That is what we need to focus on. Not encouraging killing these animals.

Bas Aja: The importance to understand, we didn't introduce this conflict. The ranching families didn't introduce the conflict. Groups a sued and litigated introduced this conflict. Once you introduce conflict, you're going to have issues, especially with a wild animal that is the top of a food chain predator best known for two things, it's howl and its killing abilities. When you introduce that conflict into a wild area like that, there is going to be other conflicts that occur and this happens to be one of them.

Ted Simons: Is this by its nature, by the nature of the animal, by the nature of the area where the animal is being introduced, again, is conflict by its nature going to happen?

Sandy Bahr: Well, yes. There will be conflicts. And how do you address those conflicts? One of the ways that you do that is to try to avoid it as much as possible. And there are programs for doing that. The issue here is not introducing conflict. It is about restoring an animal that was totally gone from the landscape and ensuring that it is fulfilling its role in the ecosystem. It is important to have wolves there. They ensure that the elk and deer are fitter. They help to bring back riparian vegetation, vegetation along rivers and streams because they keep the elk moving instead of the elk hanging out there and eating everything in sight. It is important to have them on the landscape. It is a commitment that we, the American people, have made, and we, Arizonans have made, and it is just wrong for the legislature to promote this kind of irresponsible activity.

Bas Aja: Keeping the animals fit is an interesting concept with the wolf. You know, the wolf can't read the bumper sticker that says live in peace. It can't read that. It's known and is best for killing. So, you know, when it is out there -- and that is what it does naturally. It is not like it is something bad. It's what it knows and it is what it does. Very, very very well. And that is because they pack. And they know how -- they can take down anything that exists. But most importantly, what you have to understand where the ranch families are coming from, they're coming from an area where they had over 500,000 acre fire. And a lack of management. They're coming from an area where just -- they watched a whole generation of fish frogs and elk die in the fire, and nobody seems to care. They come from an area where those fires created flash floods that the streams ran black and nobody seemed to care. Now that they're having to live in an area, and we introduce this top of the food chain predator and they're waving their hands saying kind of help us. Make us a partner, not a victim.

Sandy Bahr: Well, and there is a program for that. Instead of wasting $250,000 and lining the pockets of another law firm, the legislature could allocate those dollars for the interdiction program which helps the ranchers. Craig Miller from defenders of wildlife talked about that at the legislature the other day. Unfortunately the people on the committee did not seem interest in problem solving. They're more interested in, you know, thumbing their nose at the federal government.

Bas Aja: The fact of the matter is, the litigation that is introduce -- been introduced over the wolf is massively been done by the other side, the people. They litigated to define the area. They litigated to list the wolf. They've litigated to get rid of the adaptive management operation committee that we have. They have litigated about the numbers. They are litigating the wolf to death. The -- what we need is management. We need management because when you can manage animals, when you manage land, when you manage people, you understand that those are tools. That's not litigation. You can't do that very good in court.

Ted Simons: This payment for presents plan, the idea of compensating ranchers for tolerating wolves and keeping compensation there to cattle lost to wolves, a couple of ways to compensate ranchers who might be affected by the animals who might affect their livestock. Is that not a compromise or something to look into?

Bas Aja: We have told people about that issue, there is a lot of history with that. And the history is when our government opened up these lands years ago, and told people, go west. Go west. Settle the lands. And then the army came along and said raise beef for us. We will buy all of the beef that you can raise. Guess what? Look what we have done, the wonderful food we have produced. What we told people years ago on the wolf, tell us how many wolves you want, where you want them, and what is it worth to the public to have them there?

Ted Simons: The idea of -- go ahead, please.

Sandy Bahr: Well, obviously it is worth a lot. The public has invested a lot in restoring wolves. The bottom line is wolves kill very few cattle. That is really the least of their problems, to be honest with you. Cattle die from disease and a lot of other things. Wolves is way down on the list. Some ranchers are interested in problem solving, unfortunately, the Arizona legislature isn't. This is what they do year after year. They pass things that are blatantly unconstitutional. They don't support recovery of endangered species despite the fact that the public in Arizona very strongly supports the endangered species act, supports recovery of wolves.

Bas Aja: The fact of the matter is, that would be all great if it was true. And unfortunately, I am somewhat of an expert on cattle. Not an expert in your field. But I am on cattle and I am in herds. I come from 25 generations of herdsmen. And I grew up watching the relationship between predator and prey. I have watched hundreds of interactions between predators and prey and I can tell you that it is not a really pretty thing, but it is the way it works out there. So, when you begin to understand that relationship between a top of the food chain predator and all of the rest of the animals, and then the people that are in that area, then you begin to understand where people come from when they have a program that has no transparency. What they see it as is this great big government surveillance system. Because they're in an area of the blue where they very seldom saw people. And they kind of liked it that way. And now what they have is they've got government officials on the ground, government officials in the air with airplanes surveying, and they are like can't somebody kind of bring us in the loop.

Sandy Bahr: When the wolves are recovered, we won't need all of that. And that's one of the things that we want to see. We want to see them recovered in that area, and in other parts of the state. So we have healthy ecosystems and so we have the animals playing the role they're intended to play. I know what predator prey relationships are, and I also have looked at the numbers. The numbers indicate that they don't take very many cattle. There are a lot of other reasons that the cattle die. Again, it is the least of the problems that the ranchers have out there, and there is a program for helping with it. I don't understand why there is so much resistance to actually making this work.

Bas Aja: Well, those numbers aren't quite right. I'm interested to know now that -- you spoke in -- I didn't believe the Sierra Club was supporting the delisting of the northern wolves.

Sandy Bahr: They're not recovered.

Bas Aja: 40,000 and we're not recovered. What's the number?

Sandy Bahr: There -- well, first of all, just using numbers doesn't tell you much of anything. If you look at the science, and I've looked at it a lot, you want populations that are ecologically affected. Fulfilling their role. Having 83 wolves in a small part, relatively small part of Arizona and New Mexico, is not recovered.

Bas Aja: And you hit on the science. And it is very important. Because the way our folks, ranch families up there see it and they have shared with me is that, you know, they care for animals. That is their living and livelihood. They are watching it program and saying this is the cruellest science experiment they have ever seen. They're harassing these animals to death. Chasing them, capturing them, collaring them, pulling them out of dens, putting numbers on them.

Ted Simons: Last question for you, can the Mexican Gray Wolf in any number survive in Arizona, should it survive in Arizona? It sounds like it is a beast out there.

Bas Aja: The wolves are out there now. And we're living with the wolves now. It is uncomfortable in many instances, but what we want is a better management program. The fact of the matter is the real range is in Mexico, hence --

Sandy Bahr: That is not correct.

Bas Aja: Hence its name.

Sandy Bahr: That is not correct.

Bas Aja: What do we call it? What is its name -- Roy Mcbride trapped the last --

Sandy Bahr: You know that -- you know that common names do not reflect where they're from. The range of the Mexican Gray Wolf is into Arizona and New Mexico. That is well documented.

Bas Aja: We are on the very extreme edge northern range.

Ted Simons: We need to stop it there. We never got to the fact of whether or not this is constitutional.

Sandy Bahr: It's not. It's not.

Ted Simons: Good to have you both here.

Sandy Bahr: Thank you.

Sandy Bahr:Chapter Director and Executive Vice President, Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, Bas Aja and Arizona Cattle Feeders' Association;

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