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 animals.
On a 16-12 vote, the Senate approved legislation that allows a livestock operator or agent to kill a wolf on public land if it is in self-defense or the defense of others. The only requirement under HB 2699 is that the killing must be reported to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In separate action, the House gave final approval to SB 1211. Its permission to kill wolves on public lands is broader, extending that 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. “We’re about to do this to the Mexican wolves. 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 HB 2699, 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 acknowledges were here until at least 1930, should be reintroduced to Arizona.
HB 2699 contains language that says the federal wolf recovery program introduces a 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 released wolves have been bred and raised by humans and therefore, unlike wild wolves, “have displayed little or no fear of humans.”
SB 1211 now goes to the governor. HB 2699 needs final House approval of the Senate changes.