Trump's plans to strip Federal protections for gray wolves spark fears, concerns

PHOENIX (FOX 10) -- The Trump administration announced in March its plan to strip gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act, causing a near-panic among those who wish to see wolves thrive in the lower 48 states.

Gray wolves, currently still under Federal protection, is a subspecies of the gray wolf called the Mexican gray wolf, but the small numbers in our state are facing not just a political crisis, but a genetic crisis as well.

"All Mexican wolves in the world today are ancestors of seven wolves who survived an era of extermination by the U.S. Government," said Michael Robinson, who works for the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national organization dedicated to the preservation of endangered species, and the Mexican gray wolf is one of them. A program to return them to the wild in Arizona has stumbled, in part because too few wolves mean too few parents, and too much inbreeding among siblings.

"First of all, there are fewer pups on average among those wolves closely related, and those that share born, fewer survive to their first birthday," said Robinson.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would not return FOX 10's calls for comment about what's happening to the wolves in Arizona.

"We also advocate against removing wolves from the wild," said Robinson.

Robinson said sometimes, wolves are removed because they've caused problems for area ranchers.

Sometimes, they are killed.

"We don't know who is responsible for the dozens of illegal killings, where there have been no arrests or indictments made," said Robinson.

There is, however, some good news. The wolf population in Arizona and New Mexico was up 12% last year, to a total of at least 131 wolves in the two states. That's partly thanks to a program U.S. Fish and Wildlife runs to put wolf puppies born in captivity with Arizona wolf packs to raise.

"There's been some success," said Robinson. "It's better than nothing, but it's not enough success, and they should stick with what they know is much better than that."

When it comes to the White House's plan to de-list wolves from the Endangered Species Act, nothing could frighten wolf advocates more.

"The Trump Administration's plan to remove protection from gray wolves will be a catastrophe for the wolves," said Robinson. "They are not yet recovered."

The plan would move control of wolf populations to the state level, and Robinson said that's not a good idea either.

"Arizona has nothing in state law or regulation that would stop someone from shooting a gray wolf, after Federal protections are removed," said Robinson.

In the meantime, a public comment period continues on the White House plan, and people like Robinson hope there will be enough public pressure to change minds.

"We are getting thousands of public comments from people who care," said Robinson. "They don't have to be experts. They just have to have a heart, and believe the next generation should have an opportunity to hear howling as well, to see a paw print in the mud, and to have healthy landscapes influenced by wolves."

The Federal Government is taking comments on its plan to remove Federal protection for wolves until May 14.

Public Comments on Federal Government's plan