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In the News: After rising to a record 110, count of Mexican wolves has dropped to 97 in Southwest

The Arizona Republic – February 18, 2016

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Illegal shootings are suspected in the Mexican wolf downturn.

A deadly year for endangered Mexican gray wolves in the southwestern U.S. has left just 50 roaming Arizona forests and 97 total in the wild, ending several years of healthy population gains.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Arizona Game and Fish Department documented 13 wolf deaths and 11 wolves missing and "fate unknown" through the end of 2015, the agencies announced Thursday.

The minimum population estimate of 97 wolves between eastern Arizona and western New Mexico represents a loss of 13 from 2014, when wolf managers announced a record-high wild population since reintroduction from captivity began in 1998.

Biologists conducting the survey last month said the losses included an unprecedented number of illegal shootings, though officials said they could not confirm the number until they get necropsy results from a federal laboratory in Ashland, Ore.

Also weighing on the population in 2015 was a pup survival rate of just 55 percent after remarkable survival of 86 percent the previous year.

"These latest population numbers demonstrate that we still have more work to do in stabilizing this experimental population and maximizing its anticipated contribution to Mexican wolf recovery," Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle said in a prepared statement.

The population was designated "experimental" under the Endangered Species Act before captive-bred wolves were released. The designation gives authorities flexibility to kill or remove wolves that prey on livestock while still pursuing its ultimate recovery in the wild.

The known wolf deaths are counted against the 2015 population, and do not include two accidental deaths of wolves after agents darted them to affix tracking collars last month.

"It's alarming," said Center for Biological Diversity wolf specialist Michael Robinson, who earlier this winter had expected the count to reveal a new record high.

The losses, both to guns and to reduced pup survival, illustrate two significant problems with the recovery program, he said.

Illegal shootings are a perennial problem — there were five confirmed in 2014 — and investigations rarely nab poachers or lead to charges. Then there is the pup survival issue, which Robinson attributes partly to a lack of genetic variation in a population that at one point was down to seven in captivity.

Robinson and other activists have called for more releases from the captive-bred population, which have stalled in recent years as managers relied on wild pack reproduction.

Releases are controversial because some fear naive wolves let loose in the wild may get into more trouble. The agencies are considering a releases of captive-born pups into wild litters, where wild mother wolves have been shown to rear them.

The 11 wolves that have gone missing also are cause for concern, Robinson said.

"The vast majority of those animals (each year) are never seen again," he said.

Arizona Game and Fish has partnered with the federal recovery program since it began, and on Thursday the agency's assistant director of wildlife management said the 2015 annual count "is a concern, but not a signal that the program is unsuccessful."

"Wildlife populations vary on an annual basis," Game and Fish's Jim deVos said, "so the decline in Mexican wolves counted this year is not out of character."

This article was published in the Arizona Republic.

This story was covered by several news sources.  See below for links and contacts for letter submissions.
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Please help Mexican wolves with a letter to the editor!

The letters to the editor page is one of the most widely read, influential parts of the newspaper. One letter from you can reach thousands of people and will also likely be read by decision-makers.  Tips for writing your letter are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience.  Don’t try to include all the talking points in your letter.

This story was covered by several news sources.  
See below for links and contacts for letter submissions.

Letter to the Editor Talking Points and Tips

  • With just 97 Mexican gray wolves remain in the wild today in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico, this unique sub-species is teetering on the brink of a second extinction.
  • Geneticists have warned for years that the wild population needs greater diversity, but the US Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to release new wolves into the wild to improve the wolves’ genetic health.
  • For over 3 decades, captive breeding programs in the U.S. and Mexico have worked to maximize genetic diversity so that captive wolves could be released to increase the wild population’s genetic health. But USFWS has released very few of these wolves.  The wild population of Mexican gray wolves remains critically endangered and in need of additional populations, new releases to improve the population’s genetics, and a scientifically valid recovery plan.
  • Almost 18 years after the first Mexican wolves were reintroduced, there are only 97 wolves in the wild. More wolves are needed to stop inbreeding that researchers suggest may be lowering litter sizes and depressing pup-survival rates.
  • The window is closing on fixing the genetic issue, and one of the easiest steps the US Fish and Wildlife Service can take is to release more wolves from captivity, and do it now.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to do more – and do it fast – to save the lobo from extinction. In order for Mexican gray wolves to recover fully, they need more wolf releases, a science-based recovery plan and more wolf populations in suitable habitats.
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service should stop letting anti-wolf state officials obstruct wolf recovery.  The last effort to create aMexican wolf recovery plan stalled precisely because the states were given opportunities to weigh in before the work of the scientific experts was released for public comment. The most recent recovery planning process, which began in 2011, ended amidst allegations of political interference by these same states with the science.
  • 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.
  • States have failed to manage wildlife as a public trust for current and future citizens.  State wildlife policies, which kill off predators to supposedly support game populations, are rooted in the 1800s. Fortunately, our national policy is to restore andpreserve all forms of wildlife, including predators.  Until the states get serious about balancing conservation vs. consumption, they should recuse themselves from decisions about endangered species.
  • Enough is enough. The Service needs to assert its authority and recover the Mexican gray wolf.
  • Mexican gray wolves are unique native animals. They are the rarest, most genetically distinct subspecies of gray wolf in North America and the most endangered wolf in the world.
  • Polling shows that the majority of voters support the Mexican wolf reintroduction.
  • Wolves generate economic benefits - a University of Montana study found that visitors who come to see wolves in Yellowstone contribute roughly $35.5 million annually to the regional economy.
Letter Writing Tips

Make sure you:
  • Thank the paper for publishing this article and make sure to reference it in your letter.
  • Submit your letter as soon as possible. The chance of your letter being published declines after a day or two since the article was published.
  • Do not repeat any negative messages, such as “so and so said that wolves kill too many cows, but…”  Remember that those reading your letter will not be looking at the article it responds to, so this is an opportunity to get out positive messages about wolf recovery rather than to argue with the original article.
  • Keep your letter brief, no more than 200 words. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.
  • Include something about who you are and why you care: E.g. “I am a mother, outdoors person, teacher, business owner, scientific, religious, etc.” Don’t be afraid to be personal and creative.
  • Provide your name, address, phone number and address.  The paper won’t publish these, but they want to know you are who you say you are.
Where to submit your letter:

The Arizona Republic - Arizona
Submit your letter to the Editor HERE.

Arizona Daily Sun - Arizona
Submit your letter to the Editor HERE.

Arizona Daily Star - Arizona

Albuquerque Journal - New Mexico
Submit your letter to the Editor HERE.

Las Cruces Sun-News - New Mexico
Submit your letter to the Editor HERE.

Santa Fe New Mexican - New Mexico
After years of growth, Mexican gray wolf population declines
Submit your letter to the Editor HERE.

The Durango Herald - Colorado
Submit your letter to the Editor HERE.


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Don't stop now - Do MORE for Mexican wolves

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Learn More ...

Obstructionist policies that ignore scientific facts have been interfering with Mexican wolf recovery for many years.  Here are some past articles that highlight some of the history of the struggle to support a recovery plan based on science and not politics.




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