ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — At least one more endangered Mexican gray wolf is roaming the American Southwest compared with a year earlier, and U.S. wildlife officials said Wednesday that lower survival rates among pups are primarily to blame for the lack of strong growth in the population.
The annual survey documented 114 wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico. The number reflects on-the-ground data collected over the winter along with aerial surveys done in January and February.
The latest figure includes 26 pups that survived through 2017. In 2016, the number of surviving pups was nearly double that.
Officials lamented that the numbers were not what they had hoped for and said they were focused on improving the genetics of the wild population as a way to build more robust numbers.
“We all understand the challenges involved in protecting and restoring wild populations of this endangered species,” Amy Lueders, Southwest regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement.
Environmentalists pointed to stagnation in the population, saying managers need to rethink their approach to helping the species recover.
“It is essential that science, not politics, guides recovery efforts for these rarest of wolves,” said Bryan Bird with the group Defenders of Wildlife.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has been criticized for its management of the predators by both ranchers, who say the animals are a threat to their livelihoods, and environmentalists who want more captive-bred wolves to be released.
Mexican wolves, a subspecies of the gray wolf, nearly disappeared in the 1970s before the federal government added them to the endangered species list in 1976.
The Fish and Wildlife Service began reintroducing the wolves in New Mexico and Arizona in 1998, but the effort has been hampered by everything from politics to illegal killings and inbreeding concerns.
According to the survey, there are 22 packs, with at least 51 wolves in New Mexico and 63 wolves in Arizona.
Two dozen wolves were captured and radio-collared during the annual count, including 10 that had not been captured previously.
Officials also said one of four captive-bred pups that had been placed with foster wolf packs in the wild was confirmed to be alive.
In 2017, there were 12 documented wolf deaths.
Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity said the survey results should serve as a warning for the Fish and Wildlife Service. He said the low numbers mean each wolf in the wild counts.
Mexican wildlife managers also are working to restore the species south of the U.S.-Mexico border. Officials say there are about 30 Mexican gray wolves in the wild there.
Under a recently adopted recovery plan for the species, management of the wolves in the U.S. would eventually revert to state wildlife agencies in New Mexico and Arizona but not until the population averages 320 wolves over an eight-year period. In each of the last three years, the population would have to exceed the average to ensure the species doesn’t backslide.
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
- Cross-fostering wolves is only one tool in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s toolbox and cannot be relied upon solely to save the Mexican gray wolf from extinction. Releases of captive adult wolves are desperately needed this year to save the species.
- The genetic crisis Mexican gray wolves are in is expected to result in lower pup survival rates, which we are now seeing. The only way to prevent the species from going extinct is to rapidly improve the genetics of the wild population by releasing adult wolves from captivity. Without releasing adults, the wild population could crash very quickly due to its small size and inbreeding.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will not see the 10% annual population growth of Mexican gray wolves they claim they want to achieve with the methods they are employing. Their plan to recover the species without ever releasing an adult wolf to the wild again is preposterous and in bad faith.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must get serious about curbing illegal killings of endangered Mexican gray wolves by increasing public acceptance of wolves, increasing penalties to dissuade wolf killers, and by accepting contemporary research on negative impacts of removing wolves who depredate.
- It has now been 40 years since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first listed the Mexican gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act, yet the species is still struggling to remain viable.
- We have a moral, economic and scientific responsibility to restore endangered species like the Mexican gray wolf.
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, under 200 words
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