This week 19 years ago, 11 captive-born Mexican gray wolves (aka lobos) were released into the wilds of New Mexico and Arizona for the first time since they were very nearly eradicated in the early 1970s. In 1976, three years after the passage of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the lobo was listed as an endangered species. From just seven individuals, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) began a captive breeding program to save the species from extinction. On March 29, 1998, the first individuals were reintroduced in the Blue Range Recovery Area in New Mexico and Arizona. After more than 30 years of absence, the rarest subspecies of gray wolf returned home to the mountains of the southwest.
To commemorate this close call, ESC and many other organizations around the world are celebrating #LoboWeek by raising awareness and mobilizing activists just like you to help!
Despite all this celebrating and 20 years of recovery efforts, the Mexican gray wolf is still critically endangered. The good news is according to FWS’s latest count, there are 113 lobos in the wild, which is an increase from previous years. The bad news is that 14 wolves were found dead- some illegally poached– in 2016, making last year the record holder for the most lobo deaths since their reintroduction in 1998.
More Bad News for the Lobo:
Every lobo that exists in the wild is a descendant of the seven wolf survivors that started the captive breeding program in the late 1970s. This means that all the wild wolves are closely related and genetic diversity is very low. Consequently, their ability to adapt to changing conditions is extremely limited. Reports of unusually small litters and genetic abnormalities have resulted from the inbreeding. Until more wolves are released into the wild, these problems will continue, which leads us to our next problem. New Mexico secured an injunction last year, giving them the power to stop FWS from reintroducing anymore Mexican wolves into the wild. FWS is in the process of appealing that decision. Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, and New Mexico Wilderness Alliance have all filed to intervene in the case.
Last month, Senator Jeff Flake (AZ-R) introduced S. 368 , a piece of legislation that could drive the Mexican gray wolf to extinction. The bill would authorize states, the livestock industry, and other special interest groups to dictate the terms of the Mexican gray wolf recovery plan, rather than scientists. It would set an arbitrary cap on the number of wolves in the wild and require removal (probably lethal removal) of all wolves over that number. It would ban wolves from areas scientists have identified as necessary to their recovery, like the Grand Canyon ecoregion and the San Juan Mountains. Worst of all, this bill would remove the Mexican wolf from the endangered species list once the terms of the politicized recovery plan have been achieved, even though they would still be biologically imperiled. This bill undermines the ESA by skipping the mandated delisting process required by Section 4 of the Act.
The Mexican gray wolf is victim to the same intolerance and scapegoating that other wolf species, as well as other carnivores, are subjected to. In reality, wolves are responsible for just a fraction of a percent (.2%) of livestock loss–less than that caused by illness, weather, or even dogs there’s no evidence they kill more deer than needed to survive; and there is no statistical proof that they are a danger to humans. All this fear rhetoric overshadows the awesome benefits of having wolves in our ecosystems. Here are some examples: wolves keep prey populations healthy and even reduce diseases in hoofed mammals, like Chronic Wasting Disease. They reduce overgrazing from deer and elk, which leads to decreased soil erosion and a stable environment. They provide food and habitat for hundreds of other creatures, earning them the honorary title of keystones species. And not to mention that tourism directly related to wolves near Yellowstone National Park contributes $35.5 million to local economies yearly. Despite these and other benefits, social intolerance still persists and that contributes to a lack of political will.
So, that’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s Lobo Week and YOU are reading this blog and educating yourself on the rarest and most biologically unique subspecies of gray wolf in the world. Right now, there are around 113 lobos in the wild that need your help! Celebrate Lobo Week with me by sharing their story!
Want more ways to help?
- Share this blog with your friends and family. Education is one of the most powerful catalysts. And how can someone help if they don’t know there’s a problem?
- Educate yourself! Learn more about lobos from Lobos of the Southwest, Earthjustice, Defenders of Wildlife, and Wolf Conservation Center.
- Join the movement by using the hashtag #LoboWeek on tweets and other Mexican gray wolf related posts this week. You can find photos, graphics, and badges on the Wolf Conservation Center’s site.
- Do you happen to live in Arizona? If so, you are one of Senator Flake’s constituents. Call him and say that S. 368 is bogus!
- Be an ally for wolves by joining ESC’s Species Guardians! You’ll be given the information, resources, and support you need to be a leader for wolves in your state!
- Tell your community that it’s Lobo Week by writing a letter to the editor and submitting it to your local paper. Make sure to include why wolves are important to you.
Passionate folks like you and me are the only thing standing between the lobo and extinction. Make Lobo Week 2017 count. Join the movement and get involved!
PS. Please also read this feature story (The Lobo’s Lament) from Earthjustice and Wolf Conservation Center.
Mexican wolf photos credit USFWS