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Guest Column: More wolves, less politics in Colorado

The Denver Post - April 23, 2016 - Letters Needed Today

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By Jonathan Proctor and Heidi McIntosh

April 28 marks 40 years since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Mexican gray wolf as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Yet today, lobos still struggle to survive.

But Colorado can help save them if we move beyond the politics that block successful recovery.

Forty years ago, lobos were likely extinct in the United States and extremely rare in Mexico. They were saved from extinction by seven survivors, which were placed in a captive breeding program. Today, the wild population numbers 97 in the U.S. and fewer than 25 in Mexico, all of which suffer from a significant lack of genetic diversity. As a result, the wild lobo is losing ground again, backsliding toward oblivion due to political pressure.

In order to survive, thrive and ultimately recover, the lobo needs three things.

First, there is an urgent need for more wolf releases from captivity. Because all of the lobos alive today are descendants of the original seven captive wolves, preserving this limited genetic heritage requires careful management. But ever since the lobo reintroduction program began in the late 1990s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has never released enough wolves from captivity. During the entire Obama administration, only four new wolves have been released. Of these, three are dead and one has been returned to captivity.

The lack of wolf releases over the years has impeded a steady increase in the lobos' numbers and triggered a continual loss of genetic diversity in the wild lobo population, resulting in smaller litters, lower pup survival and a population that is less able to adapt over time to changing conditions — a recipe for extinction.

The best available science tells us that in order to beat extinction, lobos need at least two additional core populations within dispersal distance of the current population in Arizona and New Mexico. Peer-reviewed, published scientific research indicates that the best remaining habitats for these new populations are in the Grand Canyon ecoregion, and in the southern Rocky Mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.

Our second point: Lobos need friendlier politicians in Colorado who are willing to govern by science, not myth. Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Parks and Wildlife Commission have actively opposed Mexican gray wolf releases in Colorado, a position that ignores the important role the wolves would play in maintaining healthy ecosystems. It also ignores the findings in Arizona that wolves there did not adversely impact elk populations or ruin the ranching industry.

Finally, Mexican gray wolves need a science-based recovery plan to get them out of the jam they are in and headed toward recovery. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to go where the science leads it and stand firm against the relentless political pressure from state politicians and wildlife commissioners who would prefer a plan that keeps Mexican gray wolves out of needed recovery habitats, leaving the species on the brink of extinction.

Wolves are a critical component of healthy landscapes and wildlife populations, which is exactly what Coloradans want. What we don't need is continued catering to outdated anti-predator interests at the expense of endangered lobos and a healthy environment. Our politicians should recognize the will of the majority, and their decisions should be guided on the best available science.

Jonathan Proctor is the Rockies and Plains program director for Defenders of Wildlife. Heidi McIntosh is managing attorney of the Rocky Mountain regional office of Earthjustice. Both live in Denver.

This Guest Column was published in The Denver Post.

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Please help endangered Mexican gray wolves with a letter to the editor today!


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 and talking points for writing your letter are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience. Don't try to include all of the points below. Your letter will be effective if you keep it brief and focus on a few key points.

Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
  • It has now been 40 years since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first listed the Mexican gray wolf, or "lobo," under the Endangered Species Act.
  • At last official count, only 97 Mexican gray wolves were found in the wild, making them one of the most endangered wolves in the world. The wild population declined 12% since last year’s count. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan to release only one family in 2016 is sadly inadequate to the need to increase the numbers and genetic health of endangered lobos in the wild.
  • The wild population of Mexican wolves is at tremendous risk due to its small size and genetics. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan to release only one new family from the hundreds of wolves in captive breeding programs is entirely inadequate to the need for genetic rescue. At least five new families should be released this year.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is allowing politics to override science based recommendations for wolf recovery. Right now, the Service has a plan to trap and remove a father wolf over livestock as soon as his mate has pups, without any requirement for livestock owners to actively protect their livestock from depredations.
  • Those who don’t want to see these unique native wolves go extinct should join the Rally for More Wolves, Less Politics on April 28th in Albuquerque. More information is at mexicanwolves.org.
  • Since the lobo reintroduction program began in the late 1990s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has never released enough wolves from captivity, not only impeding a steady increase in the lobos’ numbers but also triggering a continual loss of genetic diversity in the wild lobo population over the past 18 years.
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service should stop letting anti-wolf state officials obstruct wolf recovery.  The last effort to create a Mexican 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.
  • During the entire Obama administration (2009 to present), only four new wolves have been released from captivity. Of these, three are dead and one has been returned to captivity. The longer the wild population goes without new releases, the worse the problems will become, requiring even more wolf releases in the future.
  • No matter how you measure it, there are clear, concrete repercussions to the dwindling genetic diversity in the wild. We are seeing smaller litters, lower pup survival and the population is less able to adapt over time to changing conditions.
  • Wolf releases from captivity are necessary to improve the all-around health of the wild Mexican gray wolf population, in terms of both their genetics and their numbers.
  • Cross-fostering of pups is a risky and complex experimental technique. Opportunities for doing this successfully are extremely rare. At best, the Fish and Wildlife Service may be able to get a few new pups into wild packs. At worst, pups introduced into packs they were not born into may be killed or abandoned. A scientific genetic rescue plan will involve releasing many more adult wolves, not just cross-fostering.
  • Time is running out for the Mexican gray wolf. The Service must immediately release multiple families of wolves from captivity to beat the clock of lobo extinction.
  • The captive population still has genes not represented in the wild population. Therefore, releases from this population would help increase the genetic diversity in the wild population.

Make sure you:
  • Thank the paper for publishing the editorial.
  • 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 from the article, 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, 150 words or less.
  • Include something about who you are and why you care: E.g. “I am a mother, outdoors person, teacher, business owner, scientific, religious, etc.”
  • 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.
Submit your letter to The Denver Post here.

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Take action to keep wolf father from being trapped and removed by the Government here.

Learn more about the Rally for More Wolves, Less Politics on April 28th here.