Federal officials have announced that they are investigating the killing of an endangered Mexican gray wolf who was shot in January by a Wildlife Services employee.
”The killing of any Mexican wolf is a tragedy, but this incident is magnified by the fact it appears there was an intentional effort to withhold information from the public,” said Michael Robinson, wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Wildlife Services has come under increasing scrutiny in the past year for its secrecy regarding the tens of thousands of animals it kills every year and the brutal methods by which this is accomplished. The fact that this incident appears to have been hidden from the public should further raise alarm bells about the need for reform of the wildlife-killing agency.”
Wildlife Services has been killing animals since it began as Animal Damage Control in 1914, largely on behalf of the livestock industry. The agency is known for its lethal predator control tactics that range from aerial gunning and trapping to gassing and poisoning, which have also killed non-target animals and endangered species. The agency is also no stranger to the spotlight after numerous incidents have led to calls for investigations into its policies and the actions of its employees that have been highlighted in enlightening reports from the Sacramento Bee and Fox News.
Federal trapper Russell Files was recently arrested for felony cruelty after he set steel-jawed traps to intentionally catch his neighbor’s dog, Zoey, for coming into his yard. She was discovered exhausted and covered in blood and had broken 22 teeth trying to bite her way out of two leg-hold traps. Late last year another employee, Jamie P. Olson, busted himself when he posted photos of his dogs brutally torturing a coyote caught in a leg-hold trap, along with photos of other dead animals.
In this case, a Wildlife Services employee shot a Mexican gray wolf while investigating two livestock deaths in New Mexico near the home range of a known pack. According to Wildlife Services, the incident was a case of mistaken identity. Carol Bannerman, a spokeswoman for Wildlife Services wrote that “While on-site he lethally removed a canine, which was then identified as possibly a Mexican wolf.”
Although the killing happened back in January, no one found out about it until the Albuquerque Journal reported on the incident this month after being tipped off by the Center for Biological Diversity.
According to Bannerman, the employee in question “immediately reported the take” to management and to the recovery project’s Interagency Field Team working on the wolf program, but the wolf recovery coordinator, Sherry Barrett, wouldn’t comment on the incident and the agent in charge of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) law enforcement in the area, Nick Chavez, would neither confirm or deny what happened, only saying that a “canine mortality” was being investigated.
The kicker, aside from the fact that a “Wildlife Specialist” apparently can’t tell the difference between a wolf and a coyote or be bothered to take a closer look before shooting, is that the USFWS – the agency tasked with helping this species recover and for investigating Endangered Species Act violations – had reported “no wolf mortalities” for January and would not confirm anything about the killing.
“The public has a right to know when and under what circumstances a public employee kills a member of an endangered species,” said Robinson. “Hiding this information from the public raises troubling questions about whether this is the first time a government wolf-killing has gone unreported.”
March 29 marked the 15th anniversary of the first reintroduction of 11 wolves who were released in Arizona in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, but the species is still struggling to survive and incidents like this aren’t helping their cause.
When the recovery program began, those involved estimated there would be more than 100 in the wild by 2006. As of now, the number of Mexican gray wolves is estimated to be 75 in New Mexico and Arizona with just three breeding pairs. The wolf who was shot in January was the 13th to be shot by a government employee and the 59th to be shot in all.
Last week another male was found dead and while no cause of death or location has been revealed by the USFWS, it is believed he died in March.
In addition to calling for an investigation into this incident, conservationists are now calling on the government to release more wolves, complete and implement the recovery plan and establish additional populations.
Please sign and share the Center for Biological Diversity’s petition calling for a full and open investigation of this incident.
Photo credit: Don Burkett