The population of endangered Mexican wolves in the wild rose compared with a year ago, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Fish and Wildlife counted at least 113 Mexican wolves in the wild in Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, up from 97 wolves a year ago. The service collects data for the annual census through on-the-ground research in November and December, and in aerial surveys during the first two months of this year.
“We are encouraged by these numbers, but these 2016 results demonstrate we are still not out of the woods with this experimental population and its anticipated contribution to Mexican wolf recovery,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service southwest regional director Benjamin Tuggle in a statement.
“Our goal is to achieve an average annual growth rate of 10 percent in the Mexican wolf population.”
Last year, Fish and Wildlife documented a decline in the population, due to a high level of mortality and a lower pup survival rate. The agency has been working to recover the species since it nearly went extinct in the 1970s.
The population of Mexican wolves that exists today, in the wild and in captivity, is derived from just seven animals. The small number of founding members has limited the population’s genetic diversity and resulted in significant inbreeding.
“The Service and our partners remain focused and committed to making this experimental population genetically healthy and robust so that it can contribute to recovery of the Mexican wolf in the future,” Tuggle said in the statement.
Bryan Bird, Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife, said that, while it is “good news” that the population count is up, “these numbers are still very small compared to what is necessary to recover the subspecies.”
“The Mexican gray wolf count is still too low for recovery and a lack of genetic diversity in the wild is a recipe for extinction,” he said.
Biologists in both the U.S. and Mexico have been working for years to carefully breed Mexican wolves to improve their diversity but, once released into the wild, inbreeding is a risk. Wolf advocates say releasing wolves from captivity is crucial to improving genetics in the wild.
Fish and Wildlife has faced significant pushback from the New Mexico Game Commission, which in 2015 denied the agency a permit to release wolves into the wild in the federally designated recovery area in Grant and Catron counties.
Citing federal authority, Fish and Wildlife went ahead and released two captive-bred pups last year into a wild pack in New Mexico in a process known as cross-fostering.
Ranchers have been opposed to the wolf reintroduction program since the apex predators have been known to prey on cattle.
Show your support for Mexican wolves with a Letter to the Editor today!
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 & Talking Points
• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to see an ongoing Mexican wolf growth rate of 10% annually. This year's 16% increase in the wild population is good news, but it follows a year with a 12% decrease, and the big increase this year is due to a large number of pups who have survived.
• If Senators Flake and McCain succeed in passing the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Plan Act, which aims to give states control over the process, states that have shown themselves to be hostile to Mexican wolf recovery would gain veto power over the Service's recovery plan. This would spell disaster for the already fragile wild population of lobos. Lobos need more protections, not fewer. Fourteen endangered Mexican wolves were found dead in 2016, the most in any single year since reintroductions began. Hostility by the states, towards the recovery program, may embolden poachers.
• Inbreeding is causing lower pup litters and lower survival rates for pups. The genetic problems Mexican wolves are experiencing can easily be relieved by releases of captive wolves to the wild, but Governor Martinez’s game commission has blocked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from doing its job to recover the lobo. They should stop blocking science-based recovery.
• The captive population of Mexican gray wolves has enough genetic diversity that more releases of wolves could save the wild population from inbreeding, but more releases must happen, and quickly.
• At last official count, only 113 Mexican gray wolves were found in the wild, making them one of the most endangered wolves in the world. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan to release only two families in 2017 is sadly inadequate to the need to increase the numbers and genetic health of endangered lobos in the wild.
• If New Mexico had not blocked releases of wolves in 2016, the population would be more healthy today.
• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must let the best available science guide the Mexican wolf recovery process, not individual state politics.
• A majority of voters in New Mexico want to the recovery program to succeed. Governor Martinez would gain more support from voters by working with the recovery program, rather than against it. In a 2013 poll of registered voters, 87% of both Arizonans and New Mexicans agreed that “wolves are a vital part of America’s wilderness and natural heritage.” 83% of Arizonans and 80% of New Mexicans agreed that “the US Fish and Wildlife Service should make every effort to help wolves recover and prevent extinction.”
Make sure you:
• Thank the paper for publishing the article
• 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 from the article, such as “so and so said 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
• Keep your letter brief
• 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.