PHOENIX — State lawmakers voted Wednesday to let ranchers shoot the Mexican gray wolves being reintroduced to the Southwest despite their listing under federal law as endangered.
On a 16-12 vote the Senate approved legislation that allows a livestock operator or agent to kill a wolf on public lands if it in self defense or the defense of others. The only requirement under HB2699 is that the act must be reported to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In separate action, the House gave final approval to SB1211. Its permission to kill wolves on public lands is broader, extending to any animal engaged in killing, wounding or biting livestock. And it also allows dogs that guard livestock to kill wolves.
The 37-22 vote came over the objections of Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson.
“We nearly destroyed the buffalo years ago,” she told colleagues, evoking the image of herds of animals shot and left to rot on the plains.
“We’re about to do this to the Mexican wolves,” Steele continued. “We don’t have to keep repeating the tragic mistakes of history.”
And Rep. Jonathan Larkin, D-Phoenix, said there are “more humane” alternatives to having ranchers kill the wolves. He said that New Mexico, for example, has set up a fund to reimburse ranchers for lost livestock.
That actually is part of HB2699, though there are no actual funds to do that. Instead, the legislation tells the attorney general to seek funds from the federal government to pay the ranchers for their losses. But it also says that if the federal government doesn’t come up with the cash, the Legislature will consider a measure to require that Mexican wolves be restricted to federally controlled lands and removed from state and private lands.
Much of the debate concerns whether wolves, which everyone admits were here until at least 1930, should be reintroduced to Arizona.
Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, who has been at the forefront of fighting the federal program, said the prey for the animals in her corner of the state are “cattle, a few whitetail, pets and our children.” And Griffin, sponsor of SB1211, told colleagues during committee debate earlier in the session about individuals in Arizona and New Mexico who have been stalked by the animals.
And HB2699 actually contains language that says the federal recovery program “introduces a brand new population of dangerous alpha-level predators and varmints into vast areas of land that have not seen wolves since the 1930s.”
That is based on the argument that the wolves have been bred and raised by humans and therefore, unlike wild wolves, “have displayed little or no fear of humans, have congregated near human dwellings and have mated with domestic dogs.” And tha,t the legislation says, makes these wolves “more unpredictable and dangerous.”
But Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr said this kind of legislation “creates this big bad wolf idea we need to get past.”
Steele, in an effort to block SB1211, drew on her Seneca heritage and beliefs.
“We are related to the trees and the dogs and the cats and the wolves,” she said.
“This may not be your religious view,” Steele continued. “But it is indeed mine.”
SB1211 now goes to the governor. HB2699 needs final House approval of the Senate changes.