The Center for Biological Diversity is calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to release more Mexican gray wolves into the wild this week, which marks the four-year anniversary of the last release.
“By starving the wild wolf population of new animals, the Fish and Wildlife Service is stacking the odds against their recovery,” said the Center’s wolf specialist, Michael Robinson in a statement. “Resuming the release of wolves into the wild is absolutely essential to overcoming inbreeding and ensuring the success of this wolf recovery program.”
Mexican gray wolves once roamed vast portions of the Southwest and Mexico but were eradicated by the 1900s in the U.S. due to conflicts with humans and livestock, while populations in Mexico dwindled.
In 1982, the USFWS approved the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, which recommended a captive breeding program and supported a goal of maintaining at least 100 wolves in their historic range. Because no one was sure how the program would do, or if wolves could successfully be reintroduced, there was no other definitive goal set for the program at the time, other than to continue working on recovery efforts.
As of now, the number of Mexican gray wolves in the wild is estimated to be between 50 to 60 in New Mexico and Arizona with just six breeding pairs.
“All Mexican wolves in the world today stem from just seven animals captured alive from the wild in Mexico and the United States, the last one in 1980. After reintroduction of the wolves to Arizona and New Mexico began in 1998, the Fish and Wildlife Service had many of the most genetically valuable wolves shot or trapped on behalf of the livestock industry. Consequently the captive population will have to jump-start the wild population again,” according to the Center.
Most recently, an alpha female and mother of four pups from the Fox Mountain pack was slated to be shot and killed by the USFWS for allegedly preying on cattle at a ranch near the wolf recovery area the pack called home. Thanks to public outcry, her life was spared, but she was captured on October 12 and will be spending her days at the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center where she may be used in a captive breeding program.
Her capture was questionable at best, and the fact that the USFWS came under fire after providing WildEarth Guardians records they requested with 682 pages of the 870 page report blacked out didn’t help. According to WildEarth Guardians, the few pages they did show didn’t provide any conclusive reason or solid evidence to justify her removal.
According to the report, “In one instance, rains had obliterated tracks and in another a rancher claimed to see a “large canine” in a meadow. In two other incidents attributed to the Fox Mountain pack, the cow carcasses were found either in a completely dried out state or in “advanced decomposition.”
Meanwhile, the few that are in the wild remain extremely vulnerable to a host of potential problems ranging from a lack of genetic diversity, diseases and natural disasters to hunting and trapping, while approximately 300 wolves who are part of the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan are being housed at facilities in the U.S. and Mexico waiting to be set free.
Photo credit: Don Burkett