ALBUQUERQUE — The population of Mexican gray wolves has reached its highest level since the reintroduction program released the first wolves 16 years ago near Alpine.
The Interagency Field Team recently completed its annual count and determined that the minimum number of Mexican wolves is 83 — 43 in New Mexico and 37 in Arizona. The population of wolves in the wild has nearly doubled in the last four years.
The count was 75 in January 2013, and 58 in 2012.
In 2013, seven packs produced 17 pups that survived through December.
The gain in wolf numbers was offset by seven deaths, four were killed illegally.
The official number is expressed as the “minimum count” because it’s a number they’re sure of. It’s entirely likely that there are additional animals that were not seen. Preparation for the annual survey begins in September and October on the ground with field team members confirming locations of animals that are fitted with telemetry collars. In January the official count begins with an aerial telemetry survey from an airplane. The airplane survey is followed by a visual count from a helicopter.
The field team currently has a pair of wolves in a pen in the forest and plans to release them sometime in the early spring. There is also a pair being held in captivity that Fish and Wildlife plans to release this year.
The management policy now is to release only a pair with newly born pups which tends to keep them near the release site. In the past newly released single animals have bolted from the release site and strayed far outside the boundaries where wolves are currently allowed to be.
All of the wolves counted were born in the wild, which program personnel say bodes well for success.
Wild born pups “seem to have what it takes to survive … and not get into trouble as relates to human interactions,” said Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, Southwest Regional Director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
Jim DeVos, assistant director of Game and Fish’s Wildlife Management Division, echoed Tuggle’s optimism during a teleconference Jan. 31.
“The fact that we now have wild wolves for the entire population we think is a huge success,” DeVos said. Wild wolves, he said, “just seem to be more adept at making a living…. The fact that we’ve had three years in a row with improvements in the population numbers is big. It seems like the Moon and the Sun and the stars are aligning… We are truly on the doorstep of tremendous conservation success.”
There is also praise for the program coming from the environmental community but it’s tempered by a call for Fish and Wildlife to establish new populations in the Grand Canyon area and the southern Rockies and more releases of wolves being held in captivity.
“The continued increase in wolf numbers is a big relief. But much more still needs to be done to recover these highly endangered and beautiful animals to sustainable levels,” according to Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity. Robinson quoted reaction to the announcement on the population increase was in a Jan. 31 news release.
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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 Writing 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 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 and continues to remove wolves over livestock.
- Almost 16 years after the first Mexican wolves were reintroduced, there are still only 83 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.
- The US Fish and Wildlife Service also needs to make changes to allow Mexican wolves to recolonize a larger area of their former range and serve their important role in shaping the Southwest’s ecosystems.
- Wolves are a benefit to the West and are essential to restoring the balance of nature.
- Polling showed 77% of Arizona voters and 69% of New Mexico voters support the Mexican wolf reintroduction.
- 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.
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