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Response to AZGFD

Peter Ossorio - July 25, 2018

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REGARDING ARIZONA GAME AND FISH DEPARTMENT’S RELEASE 18 JULY 2018

By Peter Ossorio

“AZGFD: Misinformation only stalls successful Mexican wolf recovery”

If the Department’s spokesmen were less eager to accuse the bearers of bad news and to prevent Mexican wolves from expanding beyond the territories already occupied, they might have avoided some misleading “bloopers.”

Perhaps because the wildlife science coordinator is not a geneticist – nor an expert on carnivores – he conflated population growth of the wild Mexican wolves with the critical need to improve the genetic diversity of that population.

After a lawsuit invalidated Arizona’s effective control of management practices, including an inflexible kill or remove policy which paid no attention to the genetic value of the wolf, it is true that there was a “period of strong population growth . . . with almost the entire population being wild-born wolves.”  What the coordinator left out was that during this same period the scientists and conservation organizations criticized in the article consistently warned that the inbreeding of the wild population was getting worse – and that the time to inject new genes was before the population grew too large to influence.

Apparently unaware of or uninterested in the strong social behavior of wolves – that they have preferences in selecting and staying with mates – he scolded: “The sobering truth is that in the last decade, no captive-raised adult wolf released in the wild has subsequently raised pups in the wild to contribute to the gene pool.”  What he doesn’t tell the reader is that in the last decade there have been no releases of well-bonded adult wolves with pups.  In fact, not only was the last adult release in 2015, there were only four other adult releases during the period 2008 through 2014.  Could his vested interest in avoiding the political challenges of adult releases have clouded his statistical training?

His attempt to demonstrate the superiority of – and justification for exclusive reliance on -- cross-fostering newborn pups into wild dens ignores the fact that despite the best efforts of the Interagency Field Team in 2015, there were no cross-fosters of captive-born pups into wild dens.  More importantly, he disingenuously ignores the facts that in 2016 the IFT cross-fostered only six pups, in 2017 only four pups, and in 2018 only eight pups.  He glosses over these numbers because the simple fact is the USFWS recovery implementation strategy calls for not 0, 6, 4, or 8 cross-fostered pups a year but 12 pups – not just once or twice, but every year for 16 years.  (RIS, Table 1, p.6, Activity 2.1.2) Simply stated, he wants the reader to believe that cross-fostering should be the only technique for solving the inbreeding crisis of the wild population.  This is Arizona’s position, regardless of the fact that for the first quarter of those 16 years, four consecutive years, the IFT has fallen short – not just a little, but by an average of over 7 pups a year.

That’s why Center for Biological Diversity and other organizations are pressing for release of well-bonded adult wolves with pups – not just the “shotgun weddings” of a captive wolf with one just recently captured in the wild or throwing single adults out on the landscape to look for love.  Unlike Arizona’s claim that only the cross-fostering tool should be used, CBD is not asserting that only adult releases matter.  Given the genetic crisis, CBD and other organizations just want the Mexican wolf program to quit tying its hands and use all available management tools to solve the problem.

When it comes to credibility, the Department spokesperson’s claims of “misleading and disingenuous statements” should acknowledge a little history:  The initial reintroduction of Mexican wolves, over Arizona’s objections, came as a result of a lawsuit (are you ready) by CBD.  The current 2015 reintroduction rule came as a result of (you guessed it) a 2004 petition for rulemaking by CBD followed by a successful lawsuit in 2012.  In contrast, Arizona’s attempts to limit wolf reintroduction include the 2011 limitation on releasing only “replacement” wolves for those killed in Arizona – later followed by a complete refusal to release any adults no matter how well bonded a family unit.

So what is the real reason behind touting cross-fostering as the best (and only) remedy for Mexican wolf genetic recovery?  By definition, and basic biology, captive born pups cross fostered into wild dens can only be placed in existing dens.  They don’t involve public outreach to create awareness and acceptance of wolves being released into the thousands of square miles which the reintroduction rule specifies may be used for new releases and translocations.  Far easier – and more politically expedient – to put pups into the same ol’ same ol’ and hope they survive, pair up, and conceive more wolves who will establish new territories – but not too far from the parents or too fast to cause problems for the current Department officials.

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The Arizona Game and Fish Department's comments are in response to the July 12th letter that conservation groups sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calling for the release of mated pairs of wolve with pups.

You can read more here:

Conservation group's Press Release - July 12, 2018
Release of Three Mexican Gray Wolf Packs Needed to Put Recovery Back on Track

Article published in the Santa Fe New Mexican - July 14, 2018
Conservation groups ask for the release of more wolf packs