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Wanderer From the Northern Rockies is First of its Kind in Northern Arizona Since 1940s
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, ARIZ—The American West just became a little wilder; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) confirmed that the animal spotted near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and Kaibab National Forest in northern Arizona is a gray wolf. After collecting and testing scat samples from the wolf, the Service believes it is a lone female that originated from the Northern Rockies. After traveling at least 450 miles on her own, this intrepid wanderer deserves a warm welcome back to a part of the country that has been missing its native apex carnivore for some seventy years.
“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.”
Rumors about the wolf began circulating in early October after members of the public spotted her repeatedly around the Kaibab Plateau near Grand Canyon National Park. News broke about her existence on October 30. Federal and state wildlife managers quickly confirmed the wolf’s presence, stating they were exercising precaution and treating her as fully protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The Service initially planned to capture the wolf and confirm its identity through a blood test, expediting a revised federally required permit for the project. Although a blood test no longer appears necessary, federal managers have not ruled out conducting a field capture to replace the wolf’s inoperative radio collar. Conservationists are concerned that a risky late-season field capture threatens the wolf’s safety and may result in her injury or death. Government agencies have killed nineteen critically endangered Mexican wolves in botched live-capture operations.
“We are thrilled that an iconic American species succeeded in finding sanctuary in an iconic American national park,” continued Kerr. “Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must leverage an iconic American environmental law to safeguard her from human threats.”
While the news offers hope for the ongoing recovery of wolves throughout the western United States, it contrasts starkly with federal and state efforts to prematurely remove legal protections for the species under the Endangered Species Act.
“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.“
In 2011, Congress passed a rider to a must-pass federal appropriations bill legislatively removing legal protections for the species in parts of the Northern Rockies and Midwest. Since then, the Service has been trying to finalize plans to delist gray wolves nationwide. Americans submitted over 1.5 million comments opposing the government’s plan to leave wolves unprotected by the Endangered Species Act.
If federal delisting passes, the Grand Canyon wolf and other
dispersers—including the intrepid OR-7, who traveled over 1,000 miles through
Oregon and northern California before finding a mate and establishing the first
wolf pack in southern Oregon in ninety years—would be stripped of federal
protections and once more at the mercy of guns and traps once more.
In other regions, including the Pacific Northwest, wolves that dispersed from their natal pack successfully found new homes, establishing new packs and breeding populations. In early October, a young male wolf from the Northern Rockies’ Border pack traveled from northern Idaho to northeast Utah’s Uinta Mountains before its radio collar ceased transmitting and wildlife managers lost its signal. Wolves face intense hostility and persecution in many areas, which would likely increase without legal protections.
The biological phenomenon called a trophic cascade describes benefits that flow top-down through an ecosystem because of an apex carnivore’s return. Wolves cause deer and elk herds to resume more natural behaviors like moving more frequently and avoiding certain areas, which helps prevent overgrazing of some sensitive habitats. This permits the reestablishment of shade trees and bushes to damaged riparian areas and aspen groves, providing improved habitat for other species. Even other carnivore populations respond to the wolves’ return, as grizzly bears benefit from their kills and coyote numbers are balanced by their presence.