For Immediate Release, November 21, 2014
Contact: Michael Robinson, (575) 313-7017
DNA Test Confirms Grand Canyon Wolf Wandered at
Least 450 Miles From Northern Rocky Mountains
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz.— DNA tests released today confirm that a wolf repeatedly photographed at the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is a female gray wolf originating from the northern Rocky Mountains. The wolf is currently protected as a member of an endangered species but would be stripped of her protective status along with other vulnerable wolves under an Obama administration proposal anticipated to be finalized this year.
“This wolf’s epic journey through at least three western states fits with what scientific studies have shown, namely that wolves could once again roam widely and that the Grand Canyon is one of the best places left for them,” said Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s heartening this animal has been confirmed as a wolf but I am very worried that if wolves are taken off the endangered species list she will be killed and wolf howls from the North Rim’s pine forest will never again echo in the Grand Canyon.”
The wolf, wearing an inoperative radio collar, has repeatedly been observed in Grand Canyon National Park and the adjoining Kaibab National Forest since early October. Tests were conducted on feces to help determine the animal’s origins. The minimum straight-line distance from her home to present location is about 450 miles. It is likely the wolf wandered even farther, however, by taking a more meandering route.
Earlier this month, the Center released a first-of-its-kind analysis identifying 359,000 square miles of additional wolf habitat in the lower 48 states that could significantly boost wolf recovery. The study found that the gray wolf population could be doubled to around 10,000 by expanding recovery into areas researchers have identified as excellent habitat in the Northeast, West Coast and southern Rocky Mountains, as well as the Grand Canyon.
“There’s so much more room for wolves in the West if only we extend them a bit more tolerance,” Robinson said. “The Grand Canyon wolf is a prime example of what wolves can do if only we let them.”
Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed removing gray wolves from the endangered species list, except for the Mexican gray wolf subspecies that is clinging to survival in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. Independent peer-reviewers criticized that proposal’s scientific underpinnings, but the Service may finalize the proposal nonetheless. Where wolves have already been taken off the endangered species list in the northern Rockies and upper Midwest, state-authorized hunting, trapping and snaring, along with federal aerial gunning, are driving wolf numbers downward.
Young adult wolves often leave their family packs to seek a mate and a territory of their own and may wander dozens and sometimes hundreds of miles. But with few other lone wolves to be found and many hazards, many such migrations end with the wolf’s death. One notable exception is OR-7 of Oregon, a male wolf nicknamed “Journey” by school-children, who wandered for two years in Oregon and California before finding a mate this year and raising pups in southwestern Oregon.
Beginning in 1915, the federal government conducted a predator extermination program that eliminated wolves from the western United States. In the early 1920s after most wolves had been exterminated, deer on the Kaibab Plateau starved to death by the thousands while severely browsing native vegetation. In 1927, scientists recommended the Kaibab Plateau (along with the Gila National Forest in New Mexico where Mexican wolves have since been reintroduced) as refugia for predators, but the government disagreed and would not limit its poisoning and trapping. In recent years, GIS modeling has shown that the Grand Canyon ecosystem including the Kaibab Plateau contains good wolf habitat, and that wolves could travel between the Grand Canyon and the northern Rocky Mountains. Today’s lab results show that is true.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.