After years of politically-motivated delay in responding to scientists' recommendations, last month the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed allowing endangered Mexican gray wolves to roam from the Mexican border to Interstate 40, increasing by 15 times the area in which they'd be permitted to live.
The long overdue proposal, which must be finalized by January, is welcome news for the 83 Mexican wolves living in the wild in western New Mexico and eastern Arizona.
Due to high mortality and infrequent releases from captive-breeding facilities, these wolves suffer from inbreeding, reducing litter sizes and survival rates.
The proposed changes include allowing release of wolves from captivity into the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. Under current regulations, captive-bred wolves can only be released into areas of Arizona where wolves have already established territories, which they'll defend from other wolves. The new wolves would bring fresh DNA to stanch the inbreeding.
The proposal also includes provisions to expand existing loopholes and create new ones that will allow federal and state governments and citizens to kill more wolves.
For example, private lands could be designated as wolf-kill zones, to which wolves from nearby public lands might be baited to their deaths in strangulation snares.
And wolves could be shot from the air if state game agencies determine they are having an "unacceptable impact" on elk or deer.
Furthermore, wolves would be trapped if they establish territories north of Interstate 40 in important recovery-ecosystems in the Grand Canyon and southern Rocky Mountains.
On the positive side, Alternative 3 would only somewhat increase the current level of wolf persecution.
Alternative 3, if improved, would allow necessary growth and conservation of a wolf population that has remained small and that has lost genetic diversity due to ongoing mismanagement since the reintroduction program began in 1998.
Over the past 16 years the government has shot 13 wolves on behalf of the livestock industry and accidentally killed 19 more through capture.
Recovery has been further limited by confining wolves to a politically-derived area, and by virtually ceasing release of new wolves — just three during the Obama presidency.
Only five breeding pairs of Mexican wolves live in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico, according to the last annual wolf census, which was conducted in January.
If ill-conceived proposed wolf-killing loopholes can be closed, and existing loopholes tightened, this proposal can save the Mexican wolf from looming extinction, and in the process rejuvenate our ecosystems.
Wolves limit elk from browsing on streamside saplings, allowing trees to mature to the benefit of birds, beavers and fish. Wolves provide carrion for scavengers such as badgers, eagles and bears. And they help foxes, hares and pronghorns by controlling coyote populations.
Thankfully, polls reveal that most New Mexicans rely on facts not fear, and support sharing the Southwest with these beautiful, intelligent, social animals — unfairly maligned creatures whose careful restoration can not only save the Mexican gray wolf but also help us to learn to live in balance.
Comments on the Mexican wolf proposal can be submitted to the Fish and Wildlife Service through Sept. 23 at www.regulations.gov, docket no. FWS–R2–ES–2013–0056.
Michael Robinson is based in Silver City where he works for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Do you want a future with wolves?
ACT NOW! Endangered Mexican Wolves Need Your Help!
Submit a letter to the editor responding to this Op-ed, and influence decision-makers and thousands of your fellow citizens. Tips and talking points 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.
With fewer than 90 Mexican gray wolves in the wild, US Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to make changes that could push them closer to extinction or finally help them thrive. The decision will be made in the next few months and they need to hear from you!
- Start by thanking the paper for publishing this Oped.
- US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) should move forward with allowing new wolves to be released throughout the larger area proposed.The Mexican gray wolf is the most endangered mammal in the U.S. with only about 83 in the wild. Additional wolves must be released into the wild now to increase the genetic health of the species. Numerous wolves are in captive breeding facilities around the country, prepared for, and awaiting, release.
- USFWS should not allow more killing of critically endangered wolves. The draft proposal will push Mexican gray wolves towards extinction by allowing many more of them to be killed under all kinds of justifications. With fewer than 90 in the wild, every wolf is important. These native lobos need more protections, not less.
- Wolves once lived throughout Arizona and New Mexico and played a critical role in keeping the balance of nature in place. We need to restore this important animal that has been missing for too long. People who care about wolves have an important opportunity to speak out for their recovery through September 23, 2014. Comments can be submitted electronically here: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FWS-R2-ES-2013-0056-6056. More information can be found atmexicanwolves.org.
- Wolves need freedom from boundaries. Given room to roam, the wolves will establish themselves in suitable areas with adequate game. They will naturally avoid places with high densities of humans and low prey availability. USFWS must change the rules that do not allow wolves to establish new packs and populations in additional areas that are essential to their recovery.
- Additional populations of Mexican wolves north of I-40 are necessary to their recovery and genetic health, as is the ability for wolves to move between populations. Capturing and moving wolves because they roam beyond an artificial boundary is always a risky business that can result in death or trauma to the wolf.
- The USFWS should designate Mexican gray wolves as essential. By labeling all of the wild wolves as “nonessential” the USFWS ignores science and the reality of 16 years of experience with reintroducing wolves. The 83 wolves in the wild have up to 5 generations of experience in establishing packs and raising pups and are over 22% of all of the Mexican wolves in the world.The fifth generation wild lobos are not expendable and are essential to recovering this unique subspecies of wolf.
Make sure you:
- The USFWS needs to quit stalling and complete a comprehensive recovery plan. USFWS admits that their 1982 recovery plan is not scientifically sound and does not meet current legal requirements – yet in its proposed rule USFWS continues to ignore the best available science and the recommendations of its own science recovery planning subgroup.
- Thank the paper for publishing the Op-ed.
- Keep your letter brief, between 150-300 words.
- Make your letter personal. Don't be afraid to use humor or personal stories. 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.
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Photo credit: Jean Ossorio