Mexican gray wolves have done what is needed to survive in the wild. They have formed packs, had pups and successfully hunted native prey. Yet, Mexican wolves continue to be one of the most endangered mammals in North America. A mere 114 wolves survive in the wild today. That's still dangerously close to the brink of extinction. What’s more, very few new Mexican wolves have been released into the wild from captive breeding programs in recent years, which raises serious concerns about the genetic health of the wild population.
Why? Simply put, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is failing at wolf recovery. If the agency continues on its current path, it will be impossible to attain a wild, self-sustaining population of Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest.
Improving Management and Recovery
Below are management changes recommended by leading conservation groups and wildlife biologists. These changes would ensure Mexican gray wolves expand and thrive under Endangered Species Protection.
Plan for Recovery
The 2017 recovery plan ignores the best available science, which calls for three interconnected populations of Mexican wolves in the U.S., a total population of at least 750 wolves, and has identified the Southern Rockies and Grand Canyon area as the onyl available habitat for the two new populations. The new recovery plan, which replaces an outdated plan developed in 1982, ignores the comments and advice of top wolf experts in order to appease local political players. The plan calls for two unconnected populations, one in Mexico, and only 320 wolves in the U.S. population. It gives hostile state agencies power over the release process, and it arbitrarily restricts Mexican wolves south of Interstate 40. This plan needs to be scrapped for one that is scientifically sound and will ensure the recovery of the species.
Actively Reduce Livestock-Wolf Conflicts
Livestock-wolf conflicts are the bane of Mexican wolf recovery. Tools that may work well to reduce livestock-wolf conflicts include:
Increased use of temporary electric fencing, range riders, guard dogs and other non-lethal means of preventing livestock predation.
Requiring livestock owners to remove dead livestock from public lands or render the carcasses inedible (by applying lime) to prevent wolves from becoming habituated to domestic meat.
Permanently retiring grazing allotments when permits are abandoned or voluntarily ceded back to the U.S. Forest Service or other federal land managers.
Offering incentives to livestock operators, such as voluntary purchase agreements, to permanently retire grazing allotments within the wolf recovery area, especially in areas of high conflict.
Reclassify Wolves to Ensure Better Management
Despite failing to meet its own objective for the number of Mexican wolves in the recovery area, the U.S. government continues to classify Mexican wolves as an "experimental, nonessential" population. Reclassifying wolves as fully "endangered" or an "experimental, essential" population would necessitate a shift in management philosophy from predator control to conflict prevention and improve progress toward recovery.
Remove boundaries that restrict Mexican wolf movements
The best available science says that at least two new populations of Mexican wolves in the Grand Canyon and Southern Rockies regions must be established in order to recover Mexican gray wolves. But under the revised reintroduction rule, wolves are prohibited from establishing territories north of I-40, which makes it impossible for these new, connected populations to occur. Wolves that establish territories outside the invisible boundary lines are captured and moved, whether or not they cause conflicts. The constant relocation of wolves disrupts pack social structure and thwarts population growth. Wildlife biologists have found that this provision impedes wolf recovery.
Work to Improve Genetic Integrity
The wild population of Mexican wolves is genetically impoverished, but could be rescued by carefully managed releases of wolves from the captive population. The USFWS needs to release many more wolves into the wild and work with independent experts to develop and implement a science-based genetic rescue program for the wild population.
Include the U.S. Forest Service in Recovery
The U.S. Forest Service has management authority for the entire Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area and has obligations equal to those of the USFWS under the Endangered Species Act. The Forest Service should adopt and implement conservation policies that resolve livestock-wolf conflicts and promote survival and recovery of Mexican wolves.
Continue to Keep Wolves in the Wild
After litigation and tremendous public pressure, US Fish and Wildlife Service ended a management directive called Standard Operating Procedure 13 (SOP 13) that contributed heavily to the failure to increase the numbers and genetic health of Mexican wolves. Under SOP 13, Mexican wolves were killed or removed if they were known or suspected to be involved in three or more incidents of livestock killing in a year. But even though this policy is no longer in place, US Fish and Wildlife Service continues to respond to pressure from livestock interests to remove wolves due to conflicts.Urge the Fish and Wildlife Service to keep wolves in the wild to avoid the impact removals have on the overall population, the social relations of wolves such as dependent pups, and their genetic value .