Aug 25

Mexican Gray Wolves Need More Help

This is a guest post from animal activist and advocate Barbara Troeger.


Mexican gray wolf recovery

The Mexican gray wolf reintroduction into the wild is the third and most recent such wolf introduction in the United States. Red wolves were introduced into North Carolina in 1987, from an initial set of 14 “founders”; they now number fewer than 45 in the wild. The Northern Rockies were repopulated with 54 wild gray wolves from Canada in 1995; there are now 1,704. (The gray wolf never left the Great Lakes.)

The Mexican gray wolf recovery program started in 1998, in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area which comprises the Apache National Forest in Arizona, and the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. There were only 7 founders. There are now 97 wild and about 240 captive Mexican gray wolves, known as “lobos”.

From Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, NY, a contributor of three lobos to the wild in recent years.

From Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, NY, a contributor of three lobos to the wild in recent years.

The size of the Mexican wolf population has grown slowly since 1998 (chart below).  In order to expand their narrow genetic profile, the lobo needs to reproduce in the wild. The politics leading to a sharp decline in releases of new wolves during the Obama administration has limited the population and the gene pool.  Litter sizes are smaller and pup survival rates lower.          

          Fish and Wildlife Service statistics

Year

98

99

00

01

02

03

04

05

06

07

08

09

10

11

12

13

14

15

Total

Population  at year end

4

15

22

26

41

55

46

42

59

52

52

42

50

67

80

88

110

97

 

Initially Released

13

21

16         

15

9

8

5

0

4               

0

1

0

0

0

0

1

2

1

96

Until last year, releases for newly introduced wolves were only allowed in Arizona’s Apache National Forest, where wolf packs have established themselves too close together, and grazing cattle cover over 75% of the land.  The Gila National Forest has large areas without livestock, but New Mexico blocked a plan for many new wolf introductions this April with a lawsuit. Two cross-fostered pups (a genetic strategy new for lobos) were allowed to settle there.

In sharp contrast to all other U.S. wolf populations, Mexican gray wolves are subject to a rule (which is in conflict with the nation’s wildlife laws) that allows them to be captured and returned to captivity if they pass beyond their designated boundaries. This has a devastating impact on the mortality of the removed wolf and the remaining disrupted pack.

Lobos also suffer the greatest in their interaction with grazing livestock. Yellowstone wolves have large areas to roam which are free of cattle.  Northern Rockies wolves, unlike lobos, have written rules that protect them from being killed or removed if they feed off a dead cow that was not killed by a wolf. In 2007 the American Society of Mammalogists condemned the Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to remove carcasses, due to the potential for unfair consequences for Mexican wolves.

The Center for Biological Diversity stated in 2013 that the overall removal/mortality rate for the Mexican wolves is an alarming and unsustainable 64%, primarily because of boundary issues and alleged cattle depredation.

Attitudes and the future

Americans are more favorably disposed to wildlife now than in 1978, a 2014 poll found. In particular, their positive feelings for eight traditionally stigmatized species went up, with wolves rising in popularity by 42%. Mexican wolves now have an approval rating of 69% in New Mexico and 72% in Arizona. Polls in those states taken 21 years ago show widespread, persistent support.

However the Fish and Wildlife Service has succumbed to the state governments’ negative stance on wolves in the new rule that went into effect in 2015. According to the best scientific evidence, the Mexican gray wolf needs to expand into the Grand Canyon region, northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, in order to survive. Instead, lobos were allotted a large region in southern New Mexico and Arizona, much of which is not suitable for them.

Also, the situations in which Mexican gray wolves can legally be killed have been widened. FWS personnel themselves killed 33 Mexican wolves through 2013. Illegal and USDA Wildlife Services killings together with legal killings are a serious extinction risk for Mexican wolves. Research has found that more killing opportunities does not show increased support for the Endangered Species Act.

To what extent are governmental bodies worsening America’s long enduring war on predators?

On the state level, fish and game departments are appointed by governors, and funded mostly by hunting, fishing and trapping licenses. This “sportsman’s” demographic is on the wane, while those watching and advocating for wildlife and the environment are on the rise. (They spend more money in the national parks.) In the growing new ethic, people want to preserve healthy wilderness, not kill wolves from helicopters so there are more elk to shoot.

On the federal level, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service kills many endangered wolves, and manages wolf  “harvests”, with the stated purpose that legally sanctioned killings reduce poaching. However a study in Wisconsin from 2001 to 2009 showed that after the government killed 43 endangered wolves, wolf tolerance decreased, and wolf poaching increased.  Conflict with grazing livestock may be the greatest source of Mexican gray wolf deaths, risking the species’ extinction. The many harmful impacts of grazing on dry western land are extremely costly to taxpayers and should be examined objectively.

Mexican gray wolves need greater help than they currently receive if we hope to restore them to this landscape. This can be accomplished, in part, by evaluating and revising the manner in which USDA’s Wildlife Services and USFWS determine wolves should be killed, and by increasing the locations and number of wolves released into them.

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