ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Two six-month-old Mexican gray wolf pups are navigating southwestern New Mexico’s Gila forest on their own now that their troubled pack has splintered, worrying environmentalists who think the animals’ chances of survival are slim.
This week’s efforts to track the Fox Mountain pack show the pups are miles apart and far from the pack’s alpha male. Environmentalists blame federal wildlife managers, who ordered the pack’s alpha female — the pups’ mother — captured and removed from the wild in response to a string of cattle kills.
The fate of the pack is fueling the latest wave of frustration over the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s handling of the 14-year effort to reintroduce wolves to the American Southwest. The frustration has taken the form of online petitions, public records requests and now a lawsuit.
WildEarth Guardians, a Santa Fe-based environmental group, announced Wednesday that it was asking a federal court to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to release documents related to management of the Fox Mountain pack. Another public records request filed by the Center for Biological Diversity has gone unanswered. A third has netted hundreds of pages of blacked-out documents, raising questions about decision-making within the wolf program.
Fish and Wildlife Service regional spokeswoman Charna Lefton said Wednesday she could not comment on the pending litigation.
Wendy Keefover, director of WildEarth Guardians’ carnivore protection program, questioned the veracity of the evidence used by wildlife managers to link the alpha female to the cattle kills.
“We have yet to see proof that the loba actually killed livestock, and none appears to be forthcoming,” she said, adding that the female wolf should be reunited with the pack.
The pack has been blamed for six cattle deaths, including four that happened outside the wolf recovery boundaries within a four-month period.
Ranchers have long voiced their opposition to wolf reintroduction, pointing to economic losses as well as safety issues for rural residents. Gov. Susana Martinez even asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to capture and relocate the entire Fox Mountain pack.
Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said no livestock killings had been reported in the pack’s territory for months leading up to the alpha female’s capture. He said the wolf’s removal was unnecessary and now the pups could end up starving.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has treated the removal of this animal as just removing a piece from a chess board,” Robinson said. “What we see again is that these are social animals and that the remainder of the pack is no longer a pack at this point.”
Wildlife managers have been struggling to boost the wolf population and the number of packs in New Mexico and Arizona since the reintroduction program began in 1998. Efforts have been hampered by everything from politics to lawsuits and illegal shootings.
An annual survey done at the beginning of the year showed at least 58 wolves in the wild — far below what biologists had initially expected.
The next survey will begin in January, and Lefton said the hope is that some of the pups born this year will make it through the winter.
Wolf program managers said they are monitoring the Fox Mountain pups but no supplemental feeding is planned.
Managers are considering several options for releasing wolves in Arizona to replace three wolves that were killed over the past year, but no final decisions have been made.
This Associated Press story has run in several regional news sources.
The New Mexican
The Houston Chronicle
The San Francisco Chronicle
PLEASE WRITE LETTERS TO THE EDITOR THANKING THEM FOR THIS IMPORTANT STORY AND CALLING FOR A FULL GOVERNMENT INVESTIGATION AND DISCLOSURE OF THE EVENTS RESULTING IN THE FOX MOUNTAIN MOTHER WOLF’S INCARCERATION.
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.
Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
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 email@example.com.
Start by thanking paper for publishing this article. This makes your letter immediately relevant and increases its chances of being published.
Support WildEarth Guardians’ in calling for a congressional investigation of the agency’s handling of the records request. Thousands of people contacted the Fish and Wildlife Service on behalf of the Fox Mountain alpha female and her family. The public has a right to know exactly what was behind the permanent removal of this mother wolf from her pups and mate.
Protest the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s removal of this wolf. Wolves are social animals who rely on family members in hunting and pup rearing. By removing this wolf, the USFWS is depriving four pups born this summer of their mother, harming this family of wolves, and breaking apart one of only a few breeding pairs in the wild. Now it appears that the evidence used to support this terrible action is highly questionable.
Remind readers that, at last count, just 58 wolves, including six breeding pairs, survived in the wild. This is no time to bring back the policy of scapegoating wolves who occasionally prey on livestock.
Assert that the way to improve the wild populations’ genetics is to release many new wolves into the wild. The USFWS used the Fox Mountain alpha wolves’ genetics as an excuse for removing the female, but the reason these two wolves were so closely related may be due to the fact that not a single new wolf has been released from the captive-breeding pool since November 2008. The wild population is extremely small and vulnerable to threats such as disease, inbreeding, or natural events. The USFWS should end the freeze on new releases of captive wolves into the wild
Convey how important new releases of wolves into the wild are to increase the population’s numbers and genetic health, especially now.
Tell readers why you support wolves and stress that the majority of New Mexico and Arizona voters support the Mexican wolf reintroduction. Polling showed 69% support in New Mexico and 77% support in Arizona.
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.
Describe 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.
Click here for more background information on this story.
You may sign WildEarth Guardians’ petition to Congress calling for further investigation into the Fox Mountain Loba’s capture and incarceration.
Note: The above photo is from our archives and not a photo of the pups in this story.