Northern Gray Wolf’s Trek to Arizona’s Kaibab Plateau

By Matt Clark, Tucson Audubon Conservation Advocate

Gray Wolf’s Presence Highlights the Importance of the Grand Canyon Ecoregion for Wolf Recovery and the Need for Strong ESA Protections and Corridor Conservation on a Continental Scale

The wolf sports a tracking collar. AZGF
According to the authoritative website Lobos of the Southwest, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has confirmed, through DNA tests on scat, that there is a female northern Rockies gray wolf on the Kaibab National Forest, near the north rim of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. This brave female is the first wolf in this area for more than 70 years!”  Wolves were completely eradicated in the American West by the powerful livestock lobby and government-sanctioned hunting programs (except in the Western Great Lakes area where they persisted). Sadly, by the 1940’s, the howl of the wolf was silenced on the North Kaibab Plateau by such programs. And now the wolf has returned to the Kaibab – not via direct reintroduction – but rather by following its own instincts in search of new territory, prey and a mate. This lone female wolf is thought to have traveled hundreds of miles from the Yellowstone region where wolves have been successfully reintroduced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This wolf’s amazing journey highlights the importance of the Grand Canyon Ecoregion as a prime location for future wolf recovery efforts and the need to protect the core habitats and corridors that enable such important wildlife dispersal movements to occur. The implementation of this vison has been championed by the Wildlands Network and a host of partnering conservation organizations. Last year, this collaborative launched a project called TrekWest, which followed adventurer John Davis on a historic 10-month, 5,000 mile human-powered journey along the “Western Wildway” from northern Mexico all the way to the northern Rockies. Wolves were amongst the wide-ranging animals Davis highlighted as he hiked through the Blue Range and Grand Canyon Ecoregion in a herculean effort to document crucial corridors and draw public attention to ongoing efforts to connect, protect and restore wild nature. Sign a petition to protect America’s fast-disappearing corridors. The arrival of this northern gray wolf in Arizona also underscores the importance of maintaining strong legal protections for the northern gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act, as wolves have only regained less than a tenth of their historic range in the lower 48 states.

The Arizona Daily Star reported, “Wolves often roam vast distances in search of food and mates. But the farther they go, the less likely they are to find a mate, said Ed Bangs, who led recovery efforts for wolves in the Northern Rockies over two decades before retiring from the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011. “It’s looking for love,” he said. “It leaves the core population and doesn’t know the love of its life is going to be right over the next hill, so it just keeps traveling.” About 25 percent of the roughly 1,700 wolves from the Northern Rockies are being tracked, wildlife officials said. They are distinguished from the Mexican gray wolves found in the Southwest by their more full bodies and less pointed ears. Mike Jimenez, with the Fish and Wildlife Service in Wyoming, said Northern Rockies gray wolves are hard-wired to disperse and have traveled hundreds of miles. One young female started off in Montana and traveled 3,000 miles over six months, making stops in Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Colorado before it died, he said. Colorado had been the farthest journey south for the animals until the female was confirmed in Arizona, he said . . . The Fish and Wildlife Service in recent years lifted federal protections for the animals in the western Great Lakes and the Northern Rockies. A federal judge recently ordered the protections reinstated in Wyoming after wildlife advocates sued. Environmentalists are pressing for continued protection of gray wolves. Meanwhile, they celebrated the news of the one in Northern Arizona.”

This lone female wolf, now a symbol of hope for wolf recovery in the region, needs a name! Lobos of the Southwest has launched a contest to solicit name ideas from our youth, “We think this amazing pioneer inhabiting an area where wolves once thrived deserves a special name. That’s why groups from all over the west are working together on this contest! With the help of their parent or guardian, children under the age of 18 can learn more and enter the naming contest at this website.