Guest Column: Mexican wolves still threatened by Gosar bill
In his August 6 op-ed, David Wolf presents the “facts” about Mexican wolf recovery. Alas, one person’s facts are often another’s fiction. I don’t know Mr. Wolf’s credentials. I have a Master of Science degree in wildlife biology and served as Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1990-1999. I have followed the recovery program ever since, and am a member of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Team.
Mr. Wolf claims wild Mexican wolves’ “survival and reproductive potential has increased many fold over the pen-raised wolves the program started with in 1998.” This claim has not been proven, but we do know that the wild population is highly inbred and that without new releases of captive wolves, each new wild generation becomes increasingly inbred. Currently, wild Mexican wolves are on average as related as brothers and sisters. Important genetically diverse Mexican wolves are available in captivity, but new releases have been restricted for many years by the Arizona Game Commission, which at its last meeting prohibited the additional releases of captive adult wolves and allowed only six captive-born pups to be released annually by placing them with wild litters in their dens—a tricky experimental technique called “cross fostering.” So far, there has been one placement of two pups in a den and one surviving pup has been confirmed. There is no scientific foundation for the Commission’s edict.
Mr. Wolf is correct that the “core” of historical Mexican wolf habitat is in Mexico. However, habitats with the highest potential for recovering Mexican wolves are in the United States. Scientists (some from Mexico) appointed by the Fish and Wildlife Service to the Mexican Wolf Recovery Team concluded that additional habitats in northern Arizona / southern Utah and northern New Mexico / southern Colorado are essential to recovery and long-term survival of Mexican wolves.
Mr. Wolf asserts that Arizona Game and Fish Department “is more than capable of and will see the program to a successful conclusion.” The department assumed authority over management decisions for the wild population from 2003 to 2009. The wild population exactly matched projections at 55 wolves in 2003. Six years later, it declined to 42 wolves, which led to a federal court settlement that returned management authority to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Two years later, the population was back to the 2003 level. Eight years of the 17-year reintroduction effort were wasted and important genetic diversity squandered under state control.
If Representative Gosar succeeds in taking Mexican wolves off of the Federal endangered species list, their extinction would be likely.
David Parsons is a retired wildlife biologist who lives in New Mexico.
This column was published in the Arizona Daily Sun. Read it on the Sun’s website and post a comment here.
Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
- The wild population of Mexican wolves is at tremendous risk due to its small size and genetics. Many more wolves should be released this year from the hundreds in captive breeding programs.
- Although New Mexico and Arizona polling shows that the vast majority of voters in both states support the Mexican wolf reintroduction, state politics continue to hamper the program. This ban on the release of new wolves from captivity by AZ Game and Fish is just one more action in a long list of actions by the AZ Game and Fish Commission to undermine the Mexican wolf recovery effort.
- The Arizona Game and Fish Commission’s blatant hostility towards wolves is of even greater concern given that Arizona Representative Paul Gosar has introduced legislation that would remove federal protections for endangered Mexican gray wolves. People who want to see our native wolves survive and recover should contact their representatives and urge them to vote against any bills or riders that undermine wolf recovery or the Endangered Species Act.
- For over 3 decades, captive breeding programs in the U.S. and Mexico have worked to maximize genetic diversity so that captive wolves could be released to increase the wild population’s genetic health. But USFWS has released only 4 adult wolves in the past 8 years, largely due to obstruction by Arizona Game and Fish.
- Over the years, AZ Game and Fish has advocated for killing wolves, even whole families, accused of depredating on livestock. It has sent letters to Congress requesting that Mexican gray wolves be stripped of their Endangered Species Act Protections. And it has done everything it can to stop the release of new wolves from captivity, desperately needed to boost the genetic health of the wild lobo population.
- Recently, AZ Game and Fish bullied the US Fish and Wildlife Service into capping the number of endangered Mexican gray wolves allowed to live in the wild at 325, with no basis in science or recovery planning, to trap any lobos who travel to key habitats north of I-40, and to make it easier to kill and remove these highly endangered wolves. Now it has blocked the release of genetically valuable adult wolves from the captive population, in direct opposition to the recommendations of scientific experts about what the wolves need to recover.
- During the period from 2003 – 2009, when the Adaptive Management Oversight Committee (AMOC) led by Arizona Game and Fish managed the wolf reintroduction project, the wild population declined from 55 to only 42 wolves and 2 breeding pairs.
- This action is a classic, and all too common case of state politics impeding scientific integrity. Even as AZ Game and Fish biologists who work on the Mexican wolf Interagency Field Team have been working hard to make the reintroduction program a success, the politically appointed members of the AZ Game and Fish Commission have repeatedly worked against the recovery of endangered Mexican gray wolves and dismissed the recommendations of nationally recognized scientific experts.
- Peer reviewed science by top wolf experts says that Mexican wolves need four things to recover: they need two new populations north of Interstate 40 and the ability to travel between the three populations; they need genetic rescue, which requires expedited releases from the captive population; human caused mortality must decrease; and there must be an absolute minimum of 750 wolves in the wild. With no basis in science, AZ Game and Fish wants to keep wolves south of I-40, to block new releases, to loosen restrictions on killing and trapping wolves, and to allow no more than 325 wolves to live in the wild.
- Wolves are an essential part of the balance of nature. They keep elk and deer herds healthy by ensuring the most fit animals survive.
- Mexican gray wolves are beautiful, intelligent, family oriented animals who were persecuted and nearly exterminated by the government. Our state and federal government should do everything in its power to ensure these native animals do not go extinct in the wild again.
- Wolves are responsible for less than 1% of livestock losses. Most livestock losses are due to disease, accidents, and bad weather. The livestock industry has a responsibility to share public lands with wolves and other wildlife by using coexistence methods to avoid conflicts between livestock and wolves.
- Wolves are part of God’s creation. We have a responsibility to take care of them.
- Thank the paper for publishing the guest column.
- Submit your letter as soon as possible. The chance of your letter being published declines after a day or two since the article was published.
- Do not repeat any negative messages, such as “so and so says that wolves kill too many cows, but…” Remember that those reading your letter will not be looking at the article it responds to, so this is an opportunity to get out positive messages about wolf recovery rather than to argue with the original article.
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