Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Last week we said goodbye to a wolf we hardly knew. Critically endangered Mexican gray wolf M795 grew very ill in a matter of months and on February 15th, Wolf Conservation Center veterinarians euthanized the 11-yr-old lobo in order to end his suffering.
M795 was born in the wild, but because federal agencies still don’t require livestock owners using public lands to take basic steps to prevent conflict, the elusive lobo lost his freedom. He was blamed for livestock losses in October of 2013 so USFWS removed M795 from the wild and brought him to the WCC to live out his remaining years.
R.I.P. M795. We wish you could have died within your rightful place on the wild landscape.
Today, the government plans to capture another wild lobo accused of depredation even though they have no way of knowing if the wolf they take is responsible for livestock losses.
Learn what you can do from MexicanWolves.org to help prevent this uncollared yearling wolf from the Fox Mountain pack territory from losing his freedom here.
Monday, February 24, 2014
Because the entire existing populations of Mexican wolves and red wolves are derived from such a limited founding populations (just 7 individuals for the Mexican wolf and 14 for the red wolf), genetic health is the primary consideration governing decisions re: reproductive pairings and captive-to-wild release events. It's also the reason that the SSP programs for both wolf species pursue an extraordinary conservation measure to save these species - gamete cryopreservation.
So last weekend, at the height of breeding season, WCC staff and volunteers set out to collect semen from 3 Mexican wolves and 2 red wolves in hopes that the genetic material could be stored for potential future use. This is an important option when trying to maintain diversity with a species that was once extinct in the wild. The first task was to capture all 5 wolves, not an easy job in a few feet of snow... Thankfully for the wolves, they won't remember much beyond the capture. Semen collection from wolves requires anesthesia first, and then electroejaculation. Dr. Cheryl Asa, Saint Louis Zoo's Director of Research and reproductive specialist, lead the procedure with the help of the WCC's amazing volunteer veterinarians, Norwalk Veterinary Hospital's Charlie Duffy, DVM and North Westchester Veterinary Office's Paul Maus, DVM. The procedure was a two day event and proved to be a great success! Dr Asa was able to determine how productive each wolf was by examining each deposit under the microscope to determine the number of sperm, the proportion of sperm moving and the quality of their movement, as well as the percentage of sperm with normal shape and an evaluation of the abnormal shapes present. Dr Asa then stored the samples in "straws" to prepare for cryogenic preservation at the St Louis Zoo.
|Through the microscope (photo: Chris Evers)|
So here's a breakdown of what the wolves produced:
- Mexican wolves M1139 & M1140: Both wolves extremely productive requiring a record number of "straws"
- Mexican wolf M804: productive collection - no surprise for the proven breeder
- Red Wolf M1565: no sperm at all. Possibly due to his transfer to the WCC in December when spermatogenesis occurs. Stress of travel might have interrupted the process.
- Red Wolf M1394: productive collection.
- Mexican wolf M904 (he underwent a reverse vasectomy in January): partially successful collection. Some sperm intact but most in pieces. His semen will need to be collected again in 2015 to determine if this reverse vasectomy was a 100% success.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Oh the places Atka takes us! Road trips are not uncommon for the Wolf Conservation Center’s education crew. In 2013 the WCC traveled with Ambassador wolf Atka to over 130 schools, museums, libraries, and more allowing the WCC to extend its mission far beyond the Center’s gates in South Salem, NY. Sometimes, however, Atka is unable to join the WCC's adventures in education - especially when passports are required!
Earlier this week, WCC's Maggie Howell and Spencer Wilhelm had the pleasure of introducing the critically endangered lobo to some wonderful fourth graders at the Gardner School in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Although the children knew of wolves from movies and storybooks, they were unaware of the history of the lobo, the lobo's vital role in keeping ecosystems healthy, and the bi-national efforts to recover this most genetically distinct gray wolf species. While telling the story of a Mexican gray wolf breeding pair F838 and M806, the WCC team learned that that wolf pup photos evoke smiles universally, and no matter where one calls home, most nine-year-olds think romance is gross...
Working for wolves is always a wild adventure, and doesn't necessarily have to involve working with wolves. Opening the minds and hearts of children through education is the most rewarding adventure, it's a valuable investment in improved human stewardship of our World.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Guest Commentary by John W. Laundré, Cougar Biologist State University of New York at Oswego. Originally published for the Mountain Lion Foundation
A cougar biologist takes a strong stand on the real value of wildlife. In this important opinion piece, John Laundré considers the public cost of wildlife mismanagement, and the consequences of bureaucratic decisions that fail to consider the public good and the intrinsic value of wild predators.
More and more we as a society are facing problems with how wildlife of all types are managed in the United States. We see increasing conflicts and polarization between hunting and anti-hunting groups. On the one side, invoking the pioneer tradition of our ancestors, hunting groups contend that the right to hunt is undeniable and is essential to the sound management of our wildlife resources. On the other hand, anti-hunting groups contend that the need to kill wildlife animals is no longer justified and hunting represents a next to barbaric act against living, feeling animals.
Long line of hunters walk a mountain trail. Hunters contend that they are the only ones who should have a say in how wildlife are managed.
On one side, hunters contend that because they pay the bills for the management of wildlife resources through their licenses and a federal excise tax on their hunting equipment, they are the only ones who should have a say in how wildlife are managed. On the other side, anti-hunters argue that moral objections to the slaying of innocent animals overrides any priority as to who has a say in these matters.
And the arguments go on and on. Both sides have their army of lawyers and donating members to support the lawyers. Each spends millions of dollars for their causes and sometimes hunters win and other times anti-hunters win battles but the war goes on, seemingly without end. Should it be that way? Should we manage or mismanage our wildlife resources though the press, through the courts? Who should have the say over wildlife management and what should that say be?
Given that hunters only comprise 5% of Americans of hunting age and approximately 16% of Americans disapprove of hunting, anti-hunters outnumber hunters by three to one. In the land of majority rule, should not the majority hold sway over the minority? But 16% is far from a majority of the American people. What about the other 79% of America? Should they also have a say? And if they do, what would it be? Of that 79%, 74% approve of hunting but do not hunt. Thus, the majority would seem to fall squarely on the side of hunters.
But do non-hunters (the 79% who don't hunt but are not anti-hunting) approve of how hunting is used in wildlife management and if they do or do not, is their voice heard? Are they allowed to express an opinion? Who then has the say over how wildlife are managed in America, the hunters, the anti-hunters, or the rest of the American people? Again, in all this, majority or not, hunters fall back on their base preposition, they pay for wildlife and so they should have the say, the only say. In doing so, they are denying this right to even the 73% of Americans who favor hunting and 95% of the American people are left out of these decisions.
One has to ask how such a system differs from the European one our Founding Fathers tried to avoid: wildlife being owned and managed by a small fraction of landowners verses a small fraction of the population who feel they own the "right" to wildlife and how they are managed. In both cases, the majority of the public is left out of the decision process.
Central to the answers to all these questions are two more fundamental questions of first, who owns the wildlife in America and second who is paying for their management/conservation? If we can answer these questions, then we at least define the "rights" of the different sides in the overall argument.
So, first, who owns the wildlife in America? As mentioned above, our founding fathers abhorred the European system where large landowners also owned the wildlife on those lands. To avoid these problems in the new more egalitarian society they were forming, the formers of our government declared that each state claimed ownership of wildlife on behalf of its people. This state ownership was reinforced by the Greer v Connecticut Supreme Court decision that forbid interstate transport of wildlife killed within a state and "to confine the use of such game to those who own it, the people of the state". So clearly, from the beginning to today, we the people, ALL of us own the wildlife within our respective states.
And not only do we own the wildlife, imbedded in that ownership is the right to regulate it by all of us. Further, IF that wildlife is migratory or lives on Federal lands in a state, not only do state residents have the right to regulate it but so does the rest of the nation. As stated in the Constitution, "Congress (all of us) shall have the power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States" (Article IV). This puts most wildlife in the National public trust and this right has been repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court. So clearly stated, all wildlife belongs to all the people and all the people should have a say in how it is managed.
What about the argument that those who pay should have the most, if not all, the say in how wildlife is managed? This brings us to the more fundamental question of who actually does pay for wildlife management in the U.S.? Is it just the hunters? And what wildlife are they paying to manage?
There is no doubt that hunters pay a large amount of money to manage wildlife. For many states, game agencies are strictly funded by hunting license fees, to the tune of millions of dollars. Figures range around 600-700 million dollars nationwide. In addition to the hunting license and fees, the Pittman-Robertson act in 1937 dedicated a 10% excise tax on firearms and ammunition to be spent on wildlife restoration. This fund generates around 150 million dollars a year to be distributed to the states. If we add to this figure an estimated 10 BILLON dollars hunters spend when they go hunting, it all comes up to an impressive amount of money they spend on wildlife. So, maybe they should get the say?
But wait a minute, let's look at the possible contributions from non-hunters. Regretfully, non-hunters who use and enjoy the outdoors do not pay an excise tax on sporting equipment. They had a chance to do so but did not follow through, but that is another story. Though they do not contribute to wildlife by an excise tax, do they contribute in other ways?
Let me count the ways. First fees. It is true we don't have a wildlife watching fee or license, though that might be a good idea! But non-hunter, when they use the great outdoors do pay fees, camping fees, entrance fees. How much? On the state level, it varies from state to state with a state like California generating 81 million dollars in park fees and more modest 3-10 million dollars in other states.
If we use a modest 10 million dollars a year average by state, nationwide, park users pay 500 million dollars a year toward the maintenance of the lands AND by default wildlife on those lands. Add to that, the fact that general tax revenues are also used to make up any difference in expenditures probably in an equal amount. This means general taxpayers, 95% of which do not hunt, pay several hundred million dollars in state taxes to support parks AND the wildlife on these lands. Add to that the average 1 million dollars per state taxpayers check off on their tax forms for nongame species and the total state contributions come up to around 1.5 billion dollars a year.
What about the Federal level? For National Parks, entrance fees generate around 25 million dollars a year. But the National Park budget, is around 3 billion dollars a year, again, paid for in grand part by the 95% non-hunters. We have to add to that the annual budget of the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife of 2.5 billion dollars. Also, the U.S. BLM (960 million dollars) and the Forest Service (5.1 billion dollars), which maintain large tracts of land for wildlife, add another 6 billion taxpayer dollars to the pot. I am sure I missed some other state and federal agencies whose goal it is to maintain lands and thus the wildlife on them but this should do for now.
Adding up the state revenues and the various Federal sources, we see that recreation users and general taxpayers support wildlife to the tune of around 12 BILLON dollars annually. This compares to the annual 800-900 MILLION dollars generated by sportsmen. But how about that 10 billion dollars generated by sportsmen spending? If we compare the number of people participating in hunting versus other outdoor activities, the latest figures are: 24 million hunters vs. 317 million outdoor enthusiasts. Of those, more people go birdwatching (67 million) than hunting. If we assume a similar per person spending as hunters, then these non-hunters are spending over 130 billion dollars!
So, I leave it up to you to decide, are hunters the only ones paying for wildlife?
One last important note. Although hunters do pay hundreds of millions of dollars for wildlife management, that money is normally earmarked for specific wildlife, the ones they hunt. Though some money is spent on nongame species, it is done grudgingly or is listed as a side benefit. Most game agencies are not paid to nor really care to manage non-game species. They know where the money comes from and cater to hunters to "put more game in the bag".
State game commissions are the same in that they know who they are paid by and as the name indicates only deal with game species. What this does is produce single species management where wildlife in general, the supposed great benefactor of the hunters largess, are ignored or worse yet, like predators, treated as vermin to be hunted without control because they interfere with game species. This also leaves the other 95% of the population, who is really paying the lion's share for wildlife habitat, with little or no say on how the other 99% of the wildlife are managed. This is wrong and needs to be changed.
If game agencies cannot, will not, manage the rest of the wildlife resources in a proper manner, then they should only be allowed to manage the ones they are being paid for, game species. This excludes predators which they only "manage" (kill) in response to hunters' cries for more game. All nongame species should be wrenched from game agencies' grasps and given to new standalone state wildlife agencies who cater to the 95% of the people who REALLY pay the bill for wildlife habitat.
We need a dramatic change in how wildlife are managed in this country and the separation of "game" management and wildlife management is the first critical step. Let the game agencies with their millions of hunter dollars manage the deer and the ducks but let the new wildlife agencies manage the rest of the wildlife the way they should be managed, based on sound ecological science, not hunter demands. It is time we stop sacrificing the many for the few in the wildlife world and start managing our wildlife as the integral part of the ecosystems they are.
John W. Laundré is a cougar biologist who has studied cougars for over 20 years both in the U.S. and Mexico. He has published extensively on their ecology and behavior and is the author of the upcoming book: Prairie Phantoms the Return of Cougars to the Midwest to be published by the University of Wisconsin Press. He currently is an adjunct professor at the State University of New York at Oswego where he teaches and as Vice President of the Cougar Rewilding Foundation advocates the return of cougars to their former range.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Landowners who own property in the vicinity of the Red Wolf Recovery Program, a 27-year federal project aimed at restoring to the far-eastern edge of North Carolina one of nature’s most fragile species, claim red wolves are invading their private property and impacting their longstanding cultural tradition of deer hunting. Although the deer population has dropped somewhat, NC Wildlife Resources Commission representatives believe the decline is more likely the result of increased doe hunting than impacts by red wolves.
USFWS Red Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Dave Rabon, said opposition to red wolves isn’t pervasive. Cultural differences in Eastern North Carolina make it difficult for people to support a government-funded predator program. “A lot of them will work with us,” he said. “But they’re not going to advertise it. They’re not going to put a bumper sticker on their car.”
Fourteen red wolves died in 2013 that the coalition knows about, including nine dead by suspected or confirmed gunshot wounds. Another wolf was found killed, apparently shot, on Jan. 7. “Because of the similarity of appearance between red wolves and coyotes, it is nearly impossible for individual hunters to avoid shooting red wolves,” said the recent lawsuit that the Red Wolf Coalition and other wildlife groups filed against the state in its claim that it is not doing enough to protect.
To date, there are no known red wolf attacks on humans and few documented livestock kills. Still, resentment started building early on. Though red wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act, locals were promised that they would be classified as “nonessential and experimental,” giving landowners more leeway in dealing with them.
Farm owner Jett Ferebee has recently been granted by the USFWS the first (and only) known permit to kill one of the red wolves that they had not been able to trap and remove it from his Tyrell County property, as long as the taking was done while trying to legally kill coyotes on his farm.
Relief for landowners depends on what they expect,” said USFWS Red Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Dave Rabon.” Canids of some kind, whether wolves or coyotes, will always be in the area. With Mr. Ferebee,” he said, “we’ve been very successful removing animals from his property when he’s called us. But it’s temporary. They’re going to come back. Something is going to come back.” Rabon added that opposition isn’t pervasive. Cultural differences in Eastern North Carolina make it difficult for people to support a government-funded predator program. “A lot of them will work with us,” he said. “But they’re not going to advertise it. They’re not going to put a bumper sticker on their car.”
Fourteen red wolves died in 2013 that the Red Wolf Coalition knows about, including nine dead by suspected or confirmed gunshot wounds. Another wolf was found killed, apparently shot, on Jan. 7. “Because of the similarity of appearance between red wolves and coyotes, it is nearly impossible for individual hunters to avoid shooting red wolves,” said the lawsuit that the Red Wolf Coalition and other wildlife groups filed against the state.
If successful, the suit could stop coyote hunting altogether in the five eastern counties. If it does, one can expect continued conflict between pro-recovery efforts and landowners.
The red wolf (Canis rufus) is one of the world's most endangered canids. Once common throughout the eastern and southcentral United States, red wolf populations were decimated by the early part of the 20th century as a result of intensive predator control programs and habitat loss. We oppose USFWS’ action to allow this landowner to lethally remove a red wolf. Thus, we ask that you express your opposition with a respectful email to the parties below:
email@example.com (Regional Director, Southeast Region)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Assistant Regional Director, Southeast Region)
email@example.com (Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions ...” ~ The Wilderness Act of 1964's definition of "wilderness"
According to Idaho's predator management plan for the Middle Fork Elk Zone, Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) is at it again. The newly released plan reflects Idaho's aim to kill 60 percent of the wolves in the Middle Fork area of central Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. Why? All in the interest of inflating elk populations for outfitters and recreational hunters.
This comes just weeks after IDFG hired a professional hunter-trapper to pack into the states 2.4-million-acre wilderness area to eradicate two wolf packs for the same purpose. In response to this unprecedented move, a coalition of conservationists, represented by the non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice, asked a federal judge in Idaho to halt the agencies’ wolf eradication plan. When the U.S. District Judge for Idaho denied the plaintiffs’ case, the conservationists took their fight to the court of appeals and soon thereafter IDFG temporarily halted the program until the end of June 2014. A bittersweet reprieve, since nine wolves had already been killed.
Earthjustice will be filing its opening brief later this week in the Ninth Circuit proceeding. Earthjustice is representing the original plaintiffs: long-time Idaho wilderness advocate Ralph Maughan, along with Defenders of Wildlife, Western Watersheds Project, Wilderness Watch, and Center for Biological Diversity in the case.
Statement from attorney Tim Preso of Earthjustice: “The state of Idaho has made clear that it intends to double down on its plan to transform the Middle Fork area of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness from a naturally regulated wilderness to an elk farm benefiting commercial outfitters and recreational hunters. The only thing that is not clear is whether the U.S. Forest Service will step up to defend the wilderness character of this landscape on behalf of all the American people or instead will, as it has done to date, let Idaho effectively run the area to advance its own narrow interest in elk production. For our part, we intend to do everything we can to obtain a federal court ruling that will require the Forest Service to protect this special place and its wildlife."
The U.S. Forest Service administers the wilderness. Please consider contacting the Chief of the Forest Service, Tom Tidwell, at firstname.lastname@example.org to remind the federal agency that:
- Our nation’s wilderness areas are places for wildlife to remain as wild as is possible in today’s modern world.
- Our nation’s wilderness areas are meant to be governed by natural conditions, not special interest groups.
Thank you and please follow the Wildlife News for updates.
Monday, February 10, 2014
USFWS Draft Rule "Regarding Status of the Wolf Under the Endangered Species Act"
On June 7, 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) officially announced its proposal to remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the gray wolf (Canis lupus) in the contiguous United States. Federal ESA protections would remain only for the small population of Mexican gray wolves (Canis lupus baileyi) in the desert Southwest. In addition to maintaining protection for the Mexican wolf, the Service is also proposing to and expand recovery efforts and recognize this southernmost gray wolf in North America as a distinct sub-species of the gray wolf.
Required: Objective Scientific Review
The ESA requires USFWS to base all listing and delisting decisions on the best available science. Thus when determining whether or not to end endangered species protection, federal law requires that an independent panel of scientists be commissioned to provide an objective scientific review of the federal agency's proposals.
Peer Review Findings
On February 7, 2014, USFWS released the Independent Peer review of its wolf delisting plan. The five member panel of scientists agreed unanimously that the delisting rule is based on insufficient science.
Under the ESA, USFWS is obligated to recover endangered species across a “significant portion” of its historic range. If the eastern half of the U.S. was never a part of the gray wolf’s historic range, USFWS contends that Canis lupus (a.k.a. gray wolves) now occupy enough of its historic range to be considered recovered. Thus, USFWS made its determination that gray wolves no longer warrant ESA protection.
The peer review reported that "there is not currently sufficient scientific support for the recognition of C. lycaon [eastern wolf] as a separate species... thus "there was unanimity among the panel that the [delisting] rule does not currently represent the ‘best available science.' "
In a Feb. 10 critique, “Service Manufactures Scientific Studies to Support Politically Negotiated Deals” Public Employees for Environmental Responsibly (PEER) reported that Dave Parsons, FWS’ first Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator from 1990-1999 and primary author of the Mexican gray wolf rule that would be replaced by the proposed FWS plan, has been unambiguously critical. He stated, “Based on my observations over the years, political influence and pressure has so pervaded the FWS hierarchy that professional staff feel so helpless, demoralized, and in fear of career repercussions that they dare not defy orders from higher authorities….Has FWS completely lost its soul and dedication to its mission?”
What about the Mexican Gray Wolf?
Although the peer review reported that USFWS draft rule is flawed, both the Service and the independent scientists agree Mexican gray wolves are a distinct sub-species of the gray wolf.
Call on Secretary Jewell to Withdraw USFWS’s Delisting Proposal.
The value and importance of conserving endangered species and ensuring biodiversity is an accepted axiom of the 21st century. The importance of a keystone predator such as the gray wolf to a balanced ecosystem is undeniable. That our policies would and should be motivated by the best available scientific principles is critical.
Wildlife and other natural resources are a public trust which means that every citizen has an interest and a voice in the management of natural resources. The public trust is a legal concept that implies that we all share equal, undivided interests in America's wildlife. The public trust doctrine imposes limits on governments to ensure public access to and protection of important natural resources.
Thus, decision-making and resulting wildlife policy should be developed based on sound science and carried out in a democratic manner responsive to the voice of the people.
In response to the peer review, USFWS has again opened public comment on its wolf delisting proposal for 45 days until March 27th. Please join the Wolf Conservation Center and Stand For Wolves - Call on Secretary Jewell to withdraw USFWS’s delisting proposal.
- Beyond its role as a living symbol of our natural landscape, the wolf is a keystone species. Its presence is critical to maintaining the structure and integrity of native ecosystems. Federal protections for wolves are essential to help this animal recover and expand into still-suitable parts of its former range, just as the bald eagle was allowed to do before having its federal protections removed.
- The ESA requires USFWS to base all listing and delisting decisions on the best available science. A panel of independent scientists who was commissioned to give an objective review agree unanimously that the delisting rule is based on insufficient science.
- Modern scientific evidence shows that top predators like wolves play critical roles in maintaining a diversity of other wildlife species and healthy, balanced ecosystems. The gray wolf has barely begun to recover or is absent from significant portions of its former range where substantial suitable habitat remains in the Pacific Northwest, California, the southern Rocky Mountains, Southwest and the Northeast. These areas are important to the long-term survival and recovery of wolves and to the ecosystems of these regions.
- Scientists unanimously agree that Mexican gray wolves should be listed as a separate endangered subspecies. With only 83 remaining on the wild landscape at the end of 2013, it is essential that the Service list Mexican wolves immediately without waiting to see what happens with the USFWS' nationwide treatment of the gray wolf.
Friday, February 7, 2014
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) just released the Independent Peer review of its wolf delisting plan: "Regarding Status of the Wolf Under the Endangered Species Act.
The peer review committee commissioned by the USFWS has concurred in determining that science does *not support* the plan. We now call on Secretary Jewell to immediately withdraw USFWS's proposal.
This reopens the public comment period for 45 days; stay tuned for details from our Awareness and Action Committee.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives will begin consideration of H.R. 3590, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act of 2013. Under the guise of expanding hunting and fishing access on public lands, H.R. 3590 combines several anti-wildlife proposals into a single dangerous bill that threatens the future of America's public lands and wildlife.
If passed, the bill will exclude national wildlife refuge management decisions from environmental review and public input. An extremely dangerous loophole... The bill also aims to open vital wilderness areas to damaging construction projects as well as recreational hunting and shooting on FEDERAL lands.
Please consider signing the Wolf Conservation Center's POPVOX legislative campaign to show your OPPOSITION to H.R. 3590.
When you sign the Popvox campaign, your vote goes directly to the lawmakers who represent you! If you like, you can also send a short *optional* message along with your vote. Please ask your representatives to oppose the bill too. Thank you!
Posted by nywolf at 10:46 AM
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Saturday, February 1, 2014
An annual survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) found that 83 Mexican gray wolves (a.k.a. lobos) and 5 breeding pairs call the wild landscape of Arizona and New Mexico home. This number demonstrates a 10% increase in the wild lobo population compared to the 2012 population count of 75.
Good news but work remains to be done.Some History: Mexican Gray Wolf's Brush with Extinction
In the late 1800s, perhaps not realizing the ecological consequences, there was a national movement to eradicate wolves and other large predators from the wild landscape in the United States. Wolves were trapped, shot, and poisoned. Bounties were paid. By the mid-1900s, wild Mexican wolves had been effectively exterminated in North America.
With the only lobos remaining in captivity, the Mexican wolf was listed by the USFWS as an endangered species in 1976. The Endangered Species Act requires the USFWS to develop and implement recovery plans for listed species with the objective to restore species to secure population levels, maintain those levels, and then remove them from the endangered list. Shortly after listing Mexican wolves as endangered, USFWS collaborated with Mexico to capture all Mexican wolves remaining in the wild. Five wild Mexican wolves (four males and one pregnant female) were captured alive in Mexico from 1977 to 1980, and these wolves were transferred to the United States to establish a certified captive breeding program. The objective of the plan includes the following:
“To conserve and ensure the survival of C. l. baileyi by maintaining a captive breeding program and re-establishing a viable, self-sustaining population of at least 100 Mexican wolves in the middle to high elevations of a 5,000-square mile area within the Mexican wolf’s historic range.”
(photo: OnEarth Magazine)Captive-to-Wild Release Events
Mexican wolf reintroduction efforts began on March 28, 1998 when 11 captive-reared Mexican gray were released to the wild for the first time in the Blue Range Recovery Area – just a small portion of their ancestral home in the wild southwest. Because the entire existing Mexican wolf population is derived from such a limited founding population, genetic health is the primary consideration governing both captive reproductive pairings and captive-to-wild release events. These decisions are prioritized to maintain or increase gene diversity through considerations of mean kinship, avoidance of inbreeding, and the degree of uncertainty within a pedigree.
It’s is within the Blue Range Recovery Area that Mexican wolves have struggled for a decade and a half, failing to ever reach the initial population goal of 100, and far from reaching the population goal recommended by the current Mexican Wolf Recovery Team’s Science and Planning Subgroup (SPS). The SPS team, scientists appointed by the USFWS Regional Director for their recognized expertise in scientific disciplines relevant to Mexican wolf recovery, recommend that a minimum of three, naturally connected subpopulations of at least 200 individuals each comprising a metapopulation of at least 750 wolves, are essential to the survival and recovery of Mexican gray wolves in the wild.
Celebrate Briefly and Get Back to Work
So while we celebrate news that the estimated wild lobo population did increase from 75 to 83, we have a long way to go until this keystone species is recovered. Artificial boundaries, state politics, illegal killings and USFWS's designation of all wild lobos as an “experimental, nonessential” population, continue to put recovery in a choke-hold. With an estimated population of 83, the Mexican wolf remains one of North America’s most endangered mammals.