By Rene Romo / Journal South Reporter
LAS CRUCES — The Mexican gray wolf population in southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico grew by 16 percent in 2011, bringing the total count to 58, according to the annual census conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The increase from 50 in 2010 makes the first time since 2003 that the number of Mexican gray wolves, reintroduced to the wild in 1998, has grown for two consecutive years, noted Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity.
Several conservation groups, however, noted that an environmental study before the 1998 release predicted there would be more than 100 wolves in the wild by the end of 2006, and they called for new releases of captive-bred wolves.
Benjamin Tuggle, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Regional director, said he was pleased with the population growth, but added that the agency is focusing on the “biggest threats to Mexican wolf recovery” — limited genetic diversity and illegal killings. “¦
Tuggle declined to provide details about any new releases Fish and Wildlife is considering this year, saying he preferred to talk to Arizona Game and Fish officials first.
Wolf advocates have called for new releases of captive-bred wolves to increase the genetic diversity of lobos on the ground, a factor believed to increase litter sizes and improve pup survival rates. Since 2008 Fish and Wildlife, has released only one captive-bred wolf .
“We quickly need more wolves in the Gila to prevent a genetic bottleneck and grow a healthy population,” said Wendy Keefover, carnivore program director for WildEarth Guardians. “¦
In Catron County, long a hotbed of opposition to the wolf recovery effort, Commissioner Hugh McKeen said there are already too many wolves for his taste. “¦ “It’s the extreme environmental crowd that wants them, and their purpose is basically to put ranchers out of business,” McKeen said. “No, no, I don’t want the wolves here at all.”
A total of 38 pups were born in the wild this year, but only 18 survived through the end of December, Tuggle said. The addition of young wolves was offset by the deaths of nine wolves, including three that were illegally shot and one female killed by federal agents Dec. 14 after she lingered around a Catron County home and eluded capture. Not every wolf from 2010 was accounted for during the December census.
The Service counted 26 wolves in six packs in New Mexico and 32 wolves in six packs in Arizona.
PLEASE WRITE LETTERS TO THE EDITOR TODAY! This increase is wonderful news, but these numbers are still perilously low. Dr. Tuggle promised to release more wolves into the wild last year, and it didn’t happen. Let’s keep the pressure on him to keep that promise this year!
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 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Tips for writing your letter are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience.
Below are a few suggestions for ensuring your message gets through clearly-your letter will be most effective if you focus on a few key points, so don’t try to use all of these. If you need additional help or want someone to review your letter before you send it, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org:
- Start by thanking paper for their coverage of this important issue-this makes your letter immediately relevant and increases its chances of being published.
- Stress that the welcome increase in numbers and breeding pairs, in spite of the deaths of nine wolves and more than half the pups born last year, shows that the wolves are amazingly resilient and able to thrive in the wild. They’ve done their part to succeed in the wild in the face of political opposition, killings, and removals; Director Tuggle needs to make sure the Fish and Wildlife Service does its part.
- Point out that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to keep more wolves in the wild by emphasizing tactics that help ranching and wolves coexist instead of removing wolves is starting to pay off.
- Emphasize that when packs are more stable they’re able to be better parents, and pups have a better chance at reaching adulthood and reproducing themselves.
- Point out that, while this is a positive step forward, this number is still dangerously low; Director Tuggle must keep his promise to release more wolves into the wild.
- Encourage the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to use all the means available to them to expedite more releases of captive wolves into the wild. The agency has been sitting on an Environmental Assessment that can end the ridiculous rule prohibiting new releases into New Mexico and letting wolves eligible for release into both Arizona and New Mexico sit in captivity. The stalling has to stop.
- Convey how important new releases of wolves into the wild are to increase the population’s numbers and genetic health– A population of 58 wolves is still extremely small and at risk from threats such as disease, inbreeding, or catastrophic events like the Wallow Fire, which burned through Mexican wolf habitat last year.
- Explain that there are wolves in captivity ready to be released and wolves in the wild that do not have mates; these wolves need more releases to form new breeding pairs and families.
- Talk about your personal connection to wolves and why the issue is important to you. If you’re a grandmother wanting your grandchildren to have the opportunity 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.
- Reiterate the ecological benefits of wolves 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.
- Keep your letter brief, between 150-300 words.
- Provide your name, address, occupation, and phone number; your full address, occupation, and phone number will not be published, but they are required in order to have your letter published.
This article appeared in multiple newspapers; you can submit letters to any or all of them. Submit your letters here:
NEW MEXICO NEWSPAPERS:
- Santa Fe New Mexican 150 word limit Submit your letter here.
- Las Cruces Sun-News 300 word limit Submit your letter here.
- Alamogordo News Submit your letter here.
- Arizona Daily Sun 250 word limit Submit your letter here.
Thank you for taking the time to submit a letter. The many letters to the editor expressing support for Mexican gray wolves published in the last year have made a real difference!
Please send any letters you submit to us so that we can track what’s being published.
Photograph courtesy of Robin Silver