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After a Killing: Next Steps for America's Most Endangered Mammal

Take Part, August 2, 2013  (posted 08/05/13)

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The endangered Mexican gray wolf released into the wilds of New Mexico last May barely had time to get to know her new surroundings. In a July press release, both federal and state wildlife officials confirmed that the wolf had been shot.

Authorities released no other details, and said the investigation was ongoing. But according to the Alamagordo News, the wolf, dubbed F1108, was one of four captive animals that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) had hand-picked for release this spring and that TakePart had reported on in May. Their hope, the department reported, was to bolster the wild Mexican wolf population, which today numbers in the meer mid-70s. The wolves were to be released in pairs—one in the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico and one in southeastern Arizona.

But according to the USFWS, the agency decided not to release the Arizona pair, when they discovered that the female, thought to be pregnant, wasn’t. Instead, they loosed only the one pair into New Mexico. According to the Alamagordo News, the female wolf released in New Mexico gave birth to two pups. Yet just days after they were discovered, their father was seen roaming outside of the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, a 4-million-acre range in Apache-Sitgreaves and Gila National Forests. Because the male had abandoned the female, he was returned to captivity in hopes he could be paired with another mate in the future. After his capture, she began roaming, which is when she was shot.

The story is tragic for many reasons. But according to Eva Sargent, Director of Southwest Programs at the Defenders of Wildlife, the death of wolf F1108 overshadows what may be an even bigger problem with Mexican grey wolves.

In an interview with TakePart, Sargent says that the USFWS is moving too slowly to save the Mexican wolf. She says that Mexican wolves are in poor shape genetically because of a brush with extinction that left just seven wolves—back in the 1980s—to save the subspecies. To overcome this genetic bottleneck, the wolves needed to get out of the captive breeding centers that saved them and rapidly expand their population in the wild to express every bit of genetic diversity possible. In other words, by quickly breeding and having many generations in the wild (more wolves than could fit in captivity), many more combinations of genes would actually be “tried out” in living wolves. But for years, very few if any wolves were released, and the population was kept small. Even now, there are just 75 known Mexican wolves in the Blue Range Recovery Area, a number far too small to keep the rarest wolf safe from extinction, says Sargent.

Sargent says that the only way to improve the situation now is to release many more wolves, and to establish additional populations. “And doing this right,” she says, “means using the best available science and following a recovery plan.”

Right now, says Sargent, the USFWS has “a small leaky ark” in terms of Mexican wolf recovery. “But they know how to fix it. If there’s one thing the Mexican wolves have on their side, it’s good objective scientists who are figuring out how to save them.” She adds that the Service needs to work fast to release more wolves, finish the recovery plan, and establish additional populations. “When we give wolves our best efforts, they return the favor by making our landscapes healthier and more productive. That’s what F1108 would’ve done, and we need many more mother wolves with pups to carry on after her."

This story was posted to TakePart on August 2, 2013.

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Genetic rescue planning and new populations of wolves are essential to the lobo's recovery. Without the strong public support shown through the letters, emails, phone calls, letters to the editor, and public participation of citizen activists, there would have been no Mexican wolf reintroduction in the first place. Lobos still exist because of the many actions taken on their behalf.

Recently the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed changes to the rules governing the Mexican wolf reintroduction.  However, to do so without a current science based recovery plan is shortsighted and counterproductive.  The proposed rule puts the cart before the horse and should come with or after – not before – an updated recovery plan.  The USFWS needs to quit stalling and complete a comprehensive recovery plan – and let the public see it – at the same time as or before changing the current rule.

Please submit your comments online here.

Or by mail addressed to:
Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R2-ES-2013-0056;
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM
Arlington, VA 22203


Some talking points for your letter are below-remember 
that it will be most effective written in your own words, 
from your own experience.

  • A new, science-based recovery plan to replace the outdated 1982 plan is way overdue; the US Fish and Wildlife Service should be doing all in its power to expedite release of a draft plan based on the work of the scientific subcommittee.
  • Consistent with the Interior Department's Scientific Integrity Policy, a thorough investigation of political interference with the scientific recovery planning process should be made immediately in response to the complaint by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
  • Obstruction by anti-wolf special interests and politics has kept this small population of unique and critically endangered wolves at the brink of extinction for too long and can no longer be allowed to do so.
  • Development of a new recovery plan that will address decreased genetic health and ensure long-term resiliency in Mexican wolf populations must move forward without delay.
  • The majority of New Mexico and Arizona voters support the Mexican wolf reintroduction.  Polling showed 69% support in New Mexico and 77% support in Arizona.
  • Wolves bring tremendous ecological benefits to entire ecosystems and all wildlife.  Wildlife biologists believe that Mexican wolves will improve the overall health of the Southwest and its rivers and streams – just as the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone has helped restore balance to its lands and waters.

You can make your letter more compelling by talking about your personal connection to wolves and why the issue is important to you.  If you’re a camper or hiker wanting to hear wolves in the wild, or a hunter who recognizes that wolves make game herds healthier, or a businessperson who knows that wolves have brought millions in ecotourism dollars to Yellowstone, say so.

Additional information and talking points on the USFWS proposed rule change to Mexican wolf reintroduction can be found here.
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