By Lauren Villagran / Journal Staff Writer – Las Cruces Bureau
Good news for the endangered Mexican gray wolf population: Its numbers grew for a fifth-straight year in 2014.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Friday said its annual census documented at least 109 Mexican wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona last year.
That’s up from 83 wolves in the wild at the close of 2013 — a 31 percent increase.
The 100-animal mark for the wild population of Mexican wolves was “a hedge against extinction” — a number the early planners of the recovery effort set as a goal but could hardly have imagined, said Sherry Barrett, Mexican wolf recovery program coordinator.
“Biologically it’s not that meaningful,” she said. “We have a long way to go still.”
Fewer than a dozen Mexican wolves were known to have survived a government extermination program that began in 1915 and lasted decades.
The program brought the Mexican wolf to the brink of extinction, until federal policy shifted in the 1970s.
Seven surviving wolves were captured in Mexico and Arizona and were successfully bred in captivity. The reintroduction program began in 1998.
Today, the Mexican wolf range includes the Gila and Apache national forests and is slated to be expanded when a new management rule takes effect Feb. 17.
The recent census found a total of 19 Mexican wolf packs, with a minimum of 53 wolves in New Mexico and 56 wolves in Arizona.
Fourteen packs had at least one pup that survived through the end of the year, the FWS reported. At least 38 wild-born pups survived through the end of the year.
The new management rule expands the range where Mexican wolves can roam south to the U.S.-Mexico border and north to Interstate 40.
It also broadens the areas within that range where the FWS can introduce “new” wolves bred in captivity — giving the agency greater flexibility to improve the population’s poor genetic diversity, wolf advocates say.
However, the new rule also loosens the rules governing when wolves can be “taken,” including captured or killed, which could offset population growth in the coming year, wolf advocates say.
“What we’re facing is a new management rule which allows for new releases — we don’t know how many (FWS) will do — but it allows for killing and trapping wolves under circumstances that weren’t previously permitted,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s hard to know where it’s going to go from here.”
To achieve the population count, FWS biologists use radio telemetry to locate collared wolves, as well as rely on sightings.
Population results are collected on the ground during November and December and are coupled with an aerial survey by fixed-wing aircraft and helicopter in January and February.
The new rule sets a population goal of 300 to 325 wolves, which “would provide for the persistence of this population and enable it to contribute to the next phase of working toward full recovery,” the FWS said in the new management rule published in last month.
Wolf advocates point to a study prepared for the FWS that says at least 750 Mexican wolves, spread across three populations, are needed to ensure the long-term survival of the subspecies.
This article was published in the Albuquerque Journal.
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.
Letter to the Editor Talking Points and Tips
- Mexican gray wolves are beautiful, intelligent, native animals. We have a responsibility to them and to future generations to ensure their recovery.
- The overall population increase reported is good news, but 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.
- 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.
- Almost 17 years after the first Mexican wolves were reintroduced, there are still only 109 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.
- This population increase is because of the wolves’ amazing ability to survive and breed pups. It is in spite of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to make needed changes and release more wolves.
- Wolves are a benefit to the West and are essential to restoring the balance of nature.
- Polling shows that the majority of voters support the Mexican wolf reintroduction.
- Federal protections for Mexican wolves should be maintained and strengthened. Proposals by the Obama administration and members of Congress to strip gray wolves’ Endangered Species Act protections nationwide could make it nearly impossible for wolves to resume their natural role in excellent habitats in Utah and Colorado that scientists say are necessary for Mexican wolf recovery.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Make sure you:
- Thank the paper for publishing the article.
- Do not repeat any negative messages, such as “livestock businesses may oppose wolves, but”¦” Remember that this is an opportunity to get out positive messages about wolf recovery rather than to argue with the original article.
- Keep your letter brief, between 150-300 words.
- 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 here.
- A similar article was published in the AZ Daily Sun. Read it and submit a letter there as well at this link.
Thank you for acting to save the lobo!