Thank you for the article of July 24 highlighting the Mexican Wolf recovery program from the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Some of the information in that article needs to be clarified and corrected.
While the AZGF wildlife science coordinator confuses readers by saying “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 fails to mention is that in the last decade there have been no releases if 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.
It is a shame to see the Arizona Game and Fish Department characterize the partners they work with in cross-fostering as “zoos” when they know intimately that the facilities raising the adults who should be released are the very same facilities breeding the pups AZGFD uses in cross-fostering.
When it comes to credibility, the Department spokesperson’s claim of “misleading and disingenuous statements” from other groups should acknowledge a little history: The initial reintroduction of Mexican wolves, over Arizona’s objections, came as a result of a lawsuit by Center for Biological Diversity. The current 2015 reintroduction rule came as a result of a 2004 petition for rulemaking of 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.
With the overwhelming support of Arizonians to reintroduce wolves it is important to inform the public accurately of the present situation with wolf recovery and allow the public to be well informed how Arizona Game and Fish are making decisions in the recovery of Mexican gray wolves.
If the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s spokesperson 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 misleading the public in their recent press release reprinted here.
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 they 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.
The coordinator 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.
His attempt to demonstrate the superiority of cross-fostering 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. 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. 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 use all available management tools to solve the problem.
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 wolves with pups.
You can read more here:
Conservation group's Press Release - July 12, 2018