The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provided an update on the controversial Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program to attendees at the sixth annual Natural History of the Gila Symposium — an update that told a story of poor genetic diversity and a small drop in numbers. The agency’s representative also revealed plans for more wolf reintroductions into the Gila National Forest in coming months.
The recovery program has seen fair progress in recent years, with the population growing steadily to more than 100 wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. But with several deaths reported in the annual population survey — including two after being hit by tranquilizers during the survey itself — the species saw a decline this year to 97 documented specimens.
According to changes made to the recovery plan in 2014, the FWS plans to reintroduce several more captive-raised specimens into the wild this year. The changes to the plan expand the possible reintroduction areas to anywhere between Interstate 40 and the U.S./Mexico border in Arizona and New Mexico. That, of course, includes the Gila National Forest here in Grant County.
The wolf recovery program has seen major opposition from several demographics since its inception in the late 1970s. The ranching and herding communities especially have long claimed the reintroduction and recovery of the Mexican gray wolf is an attack on their livelihood, and have decried the program as potentially dangerous. These groups were predictably upset by the expansion of the reintroduction area.
But the plan goes on. Recovery Plan Field Team Leader Kent Laudon said at the symposium that the expansion and planned releases are necessary for the wolf’s survival as a species.
“You can’t just keep putting wolves on top of wolves,” he said. “At some point they have to spread out.”
The reintroductions will also help broaden the genetic diversity of the wolves, which is understandably low since they all derive from the same seven original wolves.
“They’re like a bunch of brothers and sisters running around,” Laudon said. “We have to keep inserting more genetically interesting wolves to help with that diversity.”
No specific dates have been set for the reintroductions this summer because some of the wolves set for release are pups that haven’t been born yet. This fostering approach to reintroduction has only been attempted once with Mexican gray wolves and was not a huge success. Laudon expressed optimism for the plan, however, saying it is based on a program from the Appalachian Mountain region involving red wolves that worked well.
In any case, the pups will have to be released shortly after their birth so it is anyone’s guess when they will arrive.
Laudon also spoke to the prickly relationship between the wolves and the ranching community. He said that most of the problems between wolves and cows or sheep could be avoided with the alteration of the unique and long-practiced ranching methods in the region. He said the type of year-round grazing done on the public lands here is “done almost nowhere else,” and causes more interaction between livestock and predators.
“Wolves here are in and among livestock all the time,” Laudon said. “Sometimes they screw up.”
Opponents to the recovery plan aren’t restricted to private-sector ranchers, though. The FWS also recently bumped heads with the New Mexico State Game Commission, which denied their permit to release wolves within the state. Since FWS is a federal agency, it turns out their request for the state’s permission was actually just polite.
“We actually don’t need their permit,” Laudon said. “But we have internal protocols to try and work with state agencies when we can. We basically had to say thanks but no thanks and go ahead.”
As usually occurs at any presentation about the recovery plan, a member of the audience at the symposium asked Laudon about rumors of coyote hybridization within the population. Laudon claimed, however, that there have been no known cases among Mexican gray wolves.
This article was published in the Silver City Daily Press.
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.
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Letter to the Editor Talking Points
- 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 wild population of Mexican wolves is at tremendous risk due to its small size and genetics. Cross fostering is one tool for improving the wild population’s genetic health, but it’s not enough. Many more wolves should be released this year from the hundreds in captive breeding programs.
- Ranchers throughout the West are learning how to live with wolves. Non-lethal tools — guard dogs, strobe lights, electric fencing — can be more effective and sustainable than lethal tools — aerial gunning, hunting and trapping — in preventing wolf and livestock conflicts.
- 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 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.
- 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:
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.