At Arizona Game and Fish Commission meetings, we frequently hear public comments about how the commission's actions will lead to the "second extinction" of the Mexican wolf.
But with the recent announcement that the Arizona-New Mexico wolf population grew by 31 percent last year, isn't it time for naysayers and everyone interested in Mexican wolf recovery to recognize the program's success?
The latest population survey shows at least 109 Mexican wolves in the wild and a record 38 pups that survived through year's end. Those figures and the continued upward trajectory of the population over the past several years strongly refute the notion that the subspecies is heading for extinction.
Prior to 1998, Mexican wolves were absent from Arizona's landscape. In 1998, 11 wolves were released. In 2010, there were 50. Today, there are at least 109 wolves in Arizona-New Mexico. That is double the population in five years.
We expect this upward trend to continue for Mexican wolves. There is still work to do, especially in creating social tolerance for the presence of wolves among those who live, work and recreate on the same lands where wolves live. We continue to work with stakeholders to achieve acceptance and balance.
Our biologists, who manage wildlife based on science, expected this more rapid growth to occur as the percentage of wild-born wolves increased. When the majority of a re-established wolf population is wild-born, survival rates increase and populations grow exponentially. We've now achieved the reintroduction project's original objective of 100 wolves with a population that is 100 percent wild born.
The value of having the Mexican wolf designated as a 10(j) non-essential, experimental population under the Endangered Species Act cannot be overlooked. This designation gives the field team the flexibility to try new methods, such as last year's successful cross-fostering of pups from a genetically valuable pack with little experience raising young to placing pups with an experienced pack. New techniques like this provide an important means for bolstering the wolf population and increasing genetic diversity.
The Mexican wolf's future is bright. Re-establishing a self-sustaining population in the Southwest is well under way, thanks to the flexibility provided by the 10(j) designation and a dedicated group of partners that worked tirelessly to develop a framework for the Cooperators' Alternative, which embodies the key elements of the new 10(j) rule.
Full recovery, though, can only be accomplished when the Mexican wolf is recovered in Mexico, where 90 percent of their historic habitat occurs.
Although we have heard public comment to the contrary, the newly revised 10(j) rule guiding Mexican wolf recovery is a major step in the right direction.
It will allow wolves to disperse and occupy vastly greater territory with a link to populations in Mexico and grow to a self-sustaining population of 300 to 325 wolves while also ensuring that impacts to other wildlife like ungulates are managed. These values and measures are clear and positive steps towards real Mexican wolf recovery.
Robert Mansell is chairman of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission.
Please help Mexican wolves with a letter to the editor!
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.
The 2014 year end population count of 109 Mexican wolves in the wild certainly is worthy of celebration. However, let us not forget that it has taken 17 years to get to this point. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had projected there would be 100 wolves in the wilds of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico by 2006. More than a decade later, the total population has finally reached that milestone, still a whisker away from extinction. Due to USFWS’s failure to release new wolves from the captive breeding population, the genetic diversity of the wild population remains low, in spite of the increase in numbers.
Additionally, Arizona and New Mexico Legislators have recently presented State Bills that threaten Mexican wolf recovery.
Click here to read the Press Release of eight environmental groups actively working towards wolf recovery.
Letter to the Editor 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 to improve the population’s genetics, 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.
- Almost 17 years after the first Mexican wolves were reintroduced, there are still only 109 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.
- Wolves are a benefit to the West and are essential to restoring the balance of nature.
- Polling shows that the majority of voters support the Mexican wolf reintroduction.
- Federal protections for Mexican wolves should be maintained and strengthened. Proposals by the Obama administration and members of Congress to strip gray wolves’ Endangered Species Act protections nationwide could make it nearly impossible for wolves to resume their natural role in excellent habitats in Utah and Colorado that scientists say are necessary for Mexican wolf recovery.
- 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.
Make sure you:
- 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.
- 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.
Thank you for acting to save the lobo!
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Photo credit: David Chudnov