Bad Moon Rising On Mexican Gray Wolves

February 7, 2010

In a season of bad wolf news, Mexican wolves have been dealt another blow. Their numbers, already dismal, dipped from 52 wolves in 2008 to 42 wolves in 2009.

“The Mexican wolf population in Arizona and New Mexico plunged to its lowest level in seven years in 2009, with eight wolves including four pups found dead last year, officials said Friday.

Last year’s total of 42 wolves found in the wild was down nearly 20 percent from 52 wolves in 2008. Since the wolf recovery plan began back in 1998, the U.S. government has spent about $20 million trying to restore wolves in Eastern Arizona and southwest New Mexico, federal records show. Ninety-two total wolves have been released into the wild.”

This sad little tale has been going on since the late seventies, when a captive breeding program was started because the Mexican gray wolf was technically extinct in the wild, the result of a hundred years of persecution.  The Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan was adopted in 1982.

In 1998 captive born wolves were released into Arizona and New Mexico. Before reintroduction began in 1998, the US Fish and Wildlife Service projected 102 wolves, including 18 breeding pairs, would be thriving on their historical range by 2006, with numbers expected to rise thereafter. That was four years ago and twelve years have gone by since their release. Not only are there not 100 Mexican gray wolves in the wild but their numbers have dipped even further from the handful of 52 animals counted in 2008.

Is it any wonder the program has been a failure?  Up until last year the wolves were subjected to the three strikes rule, meaning kill three livestock and you’re out, as in dead.

The three legged alphas of the highly endangered Middle Fork Pack  are up against a sea of cattle in the Gila National Forest, which is heavily grazed.  Many of those cows belong to the Adobe/Slash Ranch, which is owned by a Mexican businessman. One of the ranch hands was actually caught baiting wolves, a few years back, to get them in trouble and cause the three strikes rule to kick in.

I sincerely hope these amazing wolves were not part of the reported grim statistics of dead wolves. Both alphas lost their left front legs. Alpha female AF861, lost her leg to a gunshot wound, that case is still being investigated. Alpha male AM871 lost his limb to a leg hold trap. Despite their handicaps they are able to hunt and raise pups!!

Finally in 2009 the  US Fish and Wildlife Services settled a Settled a lawsuit:

“brought by conservation organizations, the Fish and Wildlife Service reasserted its authority over a multiagency management team and scrapped a controversial wolf “control” rule that required permanently removing a wolf from the wild, either lethally or through capture, after killing three livestock in a year. Conservationists had criticized the rigid policy, known as Standard Operating Procedure 13 or SOP 13, for forcing wolves to be killed or sent to captivity regardless of an individual wolf’s genetic importance, dependent pups or the critically low numbers of wolves in the wild.”

Since the three strikes rule was scrapped it looked like the beleaguered wolves would have a fighting chance to start their long awaited recovery. That was until they counted them.

“The decline is “tremendously disconcerting and very disturbing,” said Benjamin Tuggle, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional director for the Southwest.

Two wolves were confirmed to have been shot to death last year. Tuggle said he is not ruling out the possibility that the other six dead wolves were shot. Those deaths are under law enforcement investigation.

An unusually poor survival rate among wolf pups appeared to play a key role in last year’s population decline, officials indicated. Thirty-one pups were born last year in seven wolf packs. Seven survived, the wildlife service said.”

Apparently the agency relies on captive wolves being reintroduced and pup survival to maintain or increase the population. So with the loss of four pups to probable poaching. a poor pup survival rate and no reintroductions  in 2009,  the wolf population declined significantly.

I think it’s safe to assume that the other six wolves were the victims of foul play. There is tremendous intolerance for wolves in the Southwest.  Big surprise. The same attitudes that plague wolves here in the Northern Rockies are mirrored there.  How pathetic that in the expanse of the Gila and Apache National Forests there isn’t a place for a hundred wolves?  There’s plenty of room for cattle though.  And that’s the problem.

Michael Robinson of  the Center for Biological Diversity states: 

“Lackadaisical Forest Service management, severe grazing during drought, trespass stock, and scattered carcasses of cattle that died of non-wolf causes which draw wolves in to scavenge, all guarantee continued conflicts between wolves and livestock,” pointed out Robinson.

“Preventing conflicts with livestock on the national forests makes more sense than scapegoating endangered wolves once conflicts begin,” said Robinson.”

The Beaverhead area has a history of wolves scavenging on carcasses of cattle that they had not killed, and then subsequently beginning to hunt live cattle. This spring, the Center for Biological Diversity documented sixteen dead cattle, none of them with any signs of wolf predation, within a few miles of the Middle Fork’s den site.

Independent scientists have repeatedly recommended that owners of livestock using the public lands be required to remove or render unpalatable (as by lime, for example) the carcasses of cattle and horses that die of non-wolf causes — such as starvation, disease or poisonous weeds — before wolves scavenge on them and then switch from preying on elk to livestock. No such requirements have been implemented.”

It sounds like Fish and Wildlife is finally waking up to the seriousness of the situation.  Bud Fazio is now heading the Mexican Gray wolf program.  He ran the Red Wolf program successfully in the Carolinas so I  have  hope he can figure out how to help these animals survive before they go extinct in the wild AGAIN!  It should start with going after the  poachers and giving them substantial jail time. If they think they can shoot a wolf and get away with it, what incentive do they have to stop?

Time is running out for the wolves in the Southwest. Why not expand the wolves recovery area outside of the Gila and Apache National Forests? How about Grand Canyon National Park for starters?

The status quo won’t cut it anymore.  The wolves have been struggling ever since their reintroduction in 1998. It’s going to take a major effort by Fish and Wildlife to protect these wolves and allow them to finally make their long-awaited recovery. Any good news on wolf recovery would be heralded.


Officials say total from last year was down nearly 20%

Mexican wolf population dipping

Elk in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area


Photos: Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Services

Posted in: Mexican gray wolf, gray wolf/canis lupus, wolf recovery, Wolf Wars

Tags: Mexican gray wolves,  wolf recovery, canis lupus, wolves or livestock

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