In the News: Mexican gray wolf population on the rise
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — More Mexican gray wolves live in the wild in the Southwest than at any time since the federal government began reintroducing the endangered predator in the region, officials said Friday.
An annual survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed at least 83 wolves are spread among forested lands in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona.
The population is nearly double what it was in 2009. Last year, when the animals made their biggest stride, the survey turned up at least 75 wolves.
Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle said he was still concerned the program faces hurdles but believes biologists have worked out a formula for managing the wolves that is starting to show dividends.
Tuggle attributed the population increase to what scientists and managers have learned about the wolves since reintroduction began in 1998.
“Whether we want to admit it or not, this is an experimental population and the wolves are teaching us as much as we’re trying to manage them,” he said. “We are taking advantage of the knowledge that we’ve had in terms of trying to focus on things like wild-born pups and making sure that we keep an eye on the genetics.”
A subspecies of the gray wolf, the Mexican wolf was added to the federal endangered species list in 1976.
The reintroduction effort has been hampered by politics, illegal killings and other factors. Disputes over management of the program have spurred numerous legal actions by environmentalists who have pushed for more wolves to be released and by ranchers who are concerned about their livelihoods and safety in rural communities.
Despite the increase in wolf numbers, federal wildlife officials are still concerned about ensuring genetic diversity. Inbreeding can cause a number of problems, including low survivability among pups.
The latest survey shows seven of the 14 packs that were documented last year produced pups, 17 of which survived through the end of the year.
Tuggle said wild-born pups seem to have what it takes to survive in the wild and avoid problems with human interaction.
Some environmentalists were disappointed in the latest population figures, saying the agency needs to release more than just a couple of new wolves every year if it wants to boost the gene pool.
Still, Arizona Game and Fish Assistant Director Jim deVos said the recovery program that some had deemed a failure now stands to serve as an example of conservation success if the population gains continue.
Please help Mexican wolves with a letter to the editor!
This article and similar ones appeared in multiple media outlets, providing great opportunities to promote Mexican wolf recovery.
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 Tips and Talking Points
- 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.
- Thank the paper for publishing the 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 to the papers below:
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