Gray Wolf Confirmed In Northern Arizona

Gray wolf photographed on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon | Photo via Center for Biological Diversity

That possible gray wolf sighted on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in October seems to have lost it's "possible" qualifier, as federal biologists have confirmed a gray wolf seems to be visiting the Canyon.

The wolf's presence was first reported to environmental groups by a tourist who photographed what seemed to be a gray wolf with a radio collar on the North Rim. The photograph was obtained after weeks of anecdotal reports from canyon visitors. After testing scat found in the vicinity for traces of DNA, biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed that a wild gray wolf is in the area.

USFWS biologists suspect the wolf may be a lone female that wandered at least 450 miles southward from the northern Rocky Mountains, which would make her the first wolf confirmed in the area in more than 70 years. According to the agency, plans to capture the wolf and draw blood samples for testing were canceled when biologists found stool samples with sufficient DNA for testing. The agency may still attempt to capture the wolf to replace batteries in the radio collar.

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"We are overjoyed that she made it through hundreds of miles of politically hostile territory to rediscover an important part of her historic range," said Drew Kerr, carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians. "This is a bellwether event for wolf recovery in the United States."

Gray wolf protection remains a hot issue in the west, with ongoing attempts by the Obama administration to remove the wolf from the Endangered Species list. A Congressional legislative end-run around the Endangered Species Act delisted wolves in parts of the northern U.S. in 2011, but in Arizona the North Rim wolf still enjoys full Endangered Species status.

California's Fish and Game Commission voted to list gray wolves as Endangered under the California Endangered Species Act earlier this year. According to a report issued earlier in November by the Center for Biological Diversity, habitat capable of supporting gray wolf populations still exists in California's Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges, along with portions of the San Gabriel, San Bernardino, and Transverse ranges.

With the recent well-publicized establishment of a fledgling wolf pack in southern Oregon that will probably claim northern California as part of its range, California's move to protect wolves independent of the federal Endangered Species Act offers a bit of security to wolves entering the state. But other western states don't have the wolves backs, and wolves in places like Arizona thus depend on the federal Endangered Species Act for protection.

"This confirmation bolsters our calls for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 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 range and still faces illogical hostility and illegal killing wherever wolves roam."

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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