No one was particularly surprised when Mexican gray wolf m2520 (named “Anubis” by a middle school class) returned to the Flagstaff area at the end of October. After having spent nearly four months hanging around the area over the summer, he must have remembered the abundant elk and deer of the region’s forests. In August, the Arizona Game and Fish Department had already tried to relocate him by moving him 200-miles southeast in an attempt to enforce the arbitrary and artificial boundary represented by Interstate 40, but wolves don’t read maps.
Almost as soon as the Department dropped him off on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, Anubis started running towards his new territory in northern Arizona. He’s a young male wolf, and following his instinct to seek out new terrain and possible mates. Since his return, he’s been successfully crossing the I-40 boundary, avoiding cars, and staying out of conflict with livestock.
Mexican gray wolves belong in the Coconino and Kaibab National Forests and in the Grand Canyon region, where prey is widely available and there’s plenty of open space for native wildlife to survive and thrive. The only reason Mexican wolves aren’t allowed to wander in suitable wolf habitats is a wholly political decision to keep them south of I-40 and within a limited recovery area for the sake of appeasing ranchers and the anti-wolf states to our north. But in the context of climate change and species adaptation, as well as an recovering population of wolves in the established range, it makes a lot of sense that Anubis and others would be expanding into new turf.
The question is, can we let wolves be wild and free, self-directed and adventurous? We hope so. We strongly oppose the recapture of Anubis for the sake of enforcing human-drawn lines on a map. Without any good reason to relocate him again, we fear that wildlife agencies are nonetheless inclined to remove him from the wild population.
He isn’t the first Mexican wolf near Flagstaff, and he won’t be the last, so we must all just learn to get along with native species. That means Arizona Game and Fish Department needs to start helping Mexican gray wolves live in their expanding habitat rather than seeking to control this trail-blazing wolf. It also means that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to buck the unscientific state politics and provide a new management rule that recognizes the current northern boundary won’t – and shouldn’t – hold.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently within a planning process and seeking public comments by January 27, 2022. More information about the proposed rule can be found online at https://bit.ly/3EIUkmo.