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Op-Ed: If we want Mexican gray wolves to recover, we need them north of the Grand Canyon

Arizona Republic, Craig Miller – April 9, 2020

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Mexican gray wolf
Opinion: If states want a self-sustaining, ecologically meaningful population of Mexican gray wolves, there are two major efforts they'll need to support.

There is good news coming from the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program: The wolf population in Arizona and New Mexico grew by 24% over the last year. The population count shows a total of 163 wolves in Arizona and New Mexico in 2019, with 42 packs throughout the two states.

This growth is largely due to a devoted partnership between the states, the federal government, the White Mountain and San Carlos Apache tribes, non-profit groups, captive management facilities, wolf country ranchers and private citizens who are working together to find solutions to long-standing and often divisive wolf-livestock conflicts.

It’s a testament to hard work and dedication despite some zealous opposition in the region.

That said, the success doesn't mean we're done. Rather, it gives the partnership the momentum and cause to expand efforts.

We're making positive steps but need more

The Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program is a cooperative effort led by the state and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team.

The biologists assigned this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity are highly trained professionals and exceedingly dedicated. If not for these passionate individuals, the program would not be making positive, incremental steps forward.

In addition to state and federal staff on the field team, numerous private individuals helped make a difference, many of whom live and work in the occupied wolf recovery area. These committed individuals include ranchers, interns and members of Native American tribes.

Captive management facilities across the U.S. and Mexico have been collaborating behind the scenes since the mid-1980s to preserve Mexican gray wolves in captivity and to support reintroduction to the wild.

And non-profit organizations, like Defenders of Wildlife, dedicate full-time staff and significant resources to peaceful coexistence between wolves and humans in the Southwest.

1. Create 2 more healthy populations

Yet more must be done before the wolves reach a self-sustaining and ecologically meaningful population in the United States.

The Fish and Wildlife Service must recognize the best available science demonstrating that at least two additional populations will need to be established before recovery of the wolf in the region can begin:

* north of the Grand Canyon;

* and in the southwestern Rocky Mountains of Colorado and New Mexico.

The wolf management rule, which is currently under court-ordered revision, will need to reflect this goal.

Anyone who supports the recovery of the wolf should write the Fish and Wildlife Service at mexicanwolfcomments@fws.gov and request these commonsense changes. This may be the last opportunity to create a program for real success.

The Wildlife Service will have to recognize the need to raise current population targets and to limit the circumstances in which wolves may be removed from the wild for perceived nuisance behavior.

2. Release adult pairs from captivity

Finally, Arizona and New Mexico must step up and encourage the Fish and Wildlife Service to release well-bonded, adult pairs from captivity.

These pairs can introduce much needed genetic material that provides a good chance at successful reproduction.

Within the binational captive breeding program managed through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan, there are about 300 to 350 Mexican gray wolves held in more than 50 partner institutions throughout the U.S. and Mexico. These wolves are bred in accordance with the Species Survival Plan to retain critical genetic diversity and provide animals for release to the wild.

If the states would like to see successful recovery of the Mexican gray wolf, as they have stated, then they must reverse their resistance to these releases and begin planning cooperative actions in partnership with the Fish and Wildlife Service now, while there is still time to save this struggling wild population.

In the meantime, all the partners working on the ground and behind the scenes for recovery will continue with total commitment. Their efforts deserve the support, funding and responsible decision-making necessary to ensure success.

It’s not easy, but we have a moral obligation to safeguard this magnificent animal’s survival.

Craig Miller is a senior Southwest representative for the Tucson-based Defenders of Wildlife and has led the organization’s regional wolf and jaguar conservation programs since 1993. Reach him at southwest@defenders.org.

This Op-Ed was published in the Arizona Republic.

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WRITE 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 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but please write in your own words, from your own experience.


Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points

Below are a few suggestions for ensuring your message gets through clearly.  Your letter will be most effective if you focus on a few key points, so don’t try to use all of these.  If you need additional help or want someone to review your letter before you send it, email it to info@mexicanwolves.org:

  • The Fish and Wildlife Service must recognize the best available science demonstrating that at least two additional populations will need to be established before recovery of the wolf in the region can begin.  These Scientists recommend additional populations north of Grand Canyon and in the southwestern Rocky Mountains of Colorado and New Mexico.

  • The current population of 163 wolves is still extremely small and genetically fragile.  This puts the wild population at risk from threats such as disease, inbreeding, or natural events.  The window is closing on fixing the genetic issue, and one of the easiest steps the US Fish and Wildlife Service can take is to release well-bonded pairs and family groups of wolves into the wild.  This will not only increase the number of wolves on the landscape, but also boost the genetic health of the wild population.

  • There are wolves in captivity ready to be released.  There are more than 300 wolves in the binational captive breeding program which is managed through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan. These wolves are bred in accordance with the Species Survival Plan to retain critical genetic diversity and provide animals for release to the wild.

  • Reiterate the ecological benefits of wolves to entire ecosystems and all wildlife. Wildlife biologists believe that Mexican wolves will improve the overall health of the Southwest and its rivers and streams – just as the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone has helped restore balance to its lands and waters.

Make sure that you:


· Thank the paper for their coverage of this important issue. This makes your letter immediately relevant and increases its chances of being published.


· 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 150 words.


· 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.


· Submit your letter to the editor of the Arizona Republic or any other paper that picked this up TODAY!



Thank you for speaking out for these critically endangered animals.