For the first time in over 70 years, a gray wolf has been sighted roaming the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, according to conservation groups who viewed a photo shared with them by a visitor to Grand Canyon National Park.
Federal wildlife agencies have not authenticated the sighting, but a spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says USFWS is attempting to locate and trap the wolf, which appears to be wearing a radio collar. If the sighting is confirmed the wolf, likely to have traveled hundreds of miles from the Northern Rockies, would be the first authenticated gray wolf in the area since the 1940s.
"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 Obama administration is attempting to strip the gray wolf of protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. At present, however, the wolf at the Grand Canyon still enjoys the full protection that law grants to endangered species. That's why the conservation groups have alerted the public to the wolf's presence, so that would-be varmint hunters intending to shoot coyotes might be reminded that shooting a gray wolf carries strict penalties.
"In the early 1900s over 30 wolves on the North Kaibab, including Grand Canyon National Park, were killed by government hunters," said Kim Crumbo, of the 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."
Wildlife biologists have identified the Grand Canyon as one of three ecosystems in the Southwest where a reintroduced population of gray wolves might turn out to be self-sustaining. The others are the southern Rocky Mountains and the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area between Tucson and Albuquerque, currently home to a population of Mexican wolves.
Conservationists are expressing concern that stripping the gray wolf of Endangered Species Act protection could well prevent wolves from reestablishing themselves in the Southwest. "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 the group 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."