The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had led the reintroduction of wolves in Arizona in 1998, and things haven't gone so well. In fact, last week, endangered species coordinator Terry Johnson called it "a muddled mess." While the state and federal agents on the ground work with each other, some of their supervisors snipe at each other over the project and its progress.
Last August, the Arizona commissioners openly expressed their suspicion of the service, especially the idea that the federal agency didn't know earlier about Mexico's plans to release wolves soon.
They decried the fact that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had sent a representative, Brian Millsap, but instructed him not to make a planned presentation (though he did answer questions). Commissioner Robert Woodhouse put many commissioners' skepticism to voice when he questioned the service's openness about Mexico's plans.
"If it had not have been for Arizona Game and Fish Department beginning to bring that out to the public, would your agency have done that by now?"
Commissioner Jack Husted demanded of Millsap: "How long have you known about this?"
Millsap said lower level Fish and Wildlife Service personnel knew of the release as of May 2009, but he only learned of it in July.
Still, Johnson, who has chaired the committee overseeing the U.S. wolf project, noted: "We were aware in early 2009 that some Mexican biologists had come up to receive some training in wolf handling at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. The Fish and Wildlife Service had brought them down to the Alpine field office. Our understanding was that was general capacity building for some time in the indefinite future."
The question that hung in the air unasked was if the Fish and Wildlife Service actually had brought the Mexican biologists to help them launch their reintroduction project right away.
During a teleconference on Friday, I brought up the question of who's running the wolf-reintroduction project in the United States to Benjamin Tuggle, the Fish and Wildlife Service's regional director.
He reiterated his position that the "AMOC" committee that ran the wolf program till late last year never had more control than the Fish and Wildlife Service itself.
"The service has never abdicated its responsibility in that regard," he said.
But over the years, some environmentalists have sharply differed on that point, noting that it seemed Johnson and Arizona Game and Fish had disproportional power.
Johnson himself also expressed disappointment in New Mexico Game and Fish's participation in the wolf program -- until a new director took over in late 2008.
"In the last year, New Mexico Game and Fish has made substantially greater commitments," Johnson said.