Mexican Gray Wolves On The Brink!

July 4, 2010

As I reported previously, three Mexican gray wolves are dead or missing.

The Hawks Nest alpha male was discovered shot to death on June 18 in eastern Arizona. The Hawks Nest pack was one of just two packs who had a surviving pup at the end of 2009. To add to the tragedy, last week the alpha male of the San Mateo pack in New Mexico was found dead under a cloud of suspicion. And the alpha male of the Paradise Pack, who roamed the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, has been missing since the middle of April.

The Hawks Nest Pack is believed to have seven pups, now fatherless. The other two packs were observed denning, so they probably have pups. Both the Paradise and San Mateo packs are down to just one adult, the alpha female and any pups she may have. Now they are alone with  no other wolves to help them.

A captive Mexican gray wolf pup is held by a keeper to be weighed
at the Endangered  Wolf Center in St. Louis.
 
This pup is one of  five eight week old pups, four boys and one girl.  Will they survive in the wild?  
Photo Courtesy: Tom Gannam / Associated Press

Mexican gray wolves are the most endangered mammals in North America, with only 14 wolves in New Mexico and now just 25 wolves in Arizona.

From Lobos of the Southwest:

“The Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area is the Gila National Forest in New Mexico and the Apache National Forest in Arizona and part of New Mexico—comprising 4.4 million acres (twice the size of Yellowstone National Park), which support an extraordinary array of wildlife and vegetation types. In addition, the White Mountain Apache Tribe has welcomed wolves onto its 1.67-million-acre reservation in Arizona adjoining the national forest.”

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 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 there now are only 39, deducting the recent losses.

The three legged alphas of the highly endangered Middle Fork Pack  are up against a sea of cattle in the Gila National Forest.

Middle Fork three-legged alphas

Both alphas lost their left front legs. Alpha female AF861, leg was shot to bits, that case is still being investigated. Alpha male AM871 lost his limb to a leg hold trap. Despite their handicaps they were still able to hunt and raise pups!!   

Many of the cows in the Gila belong to the Adobe/Slash Ranch, which is owned by a Mexican businessman. 

One of their ranch hands was actually caughtbaiting wolves, to get them in trouble and cause the three strikes rule to kick in. 

Finally in 2009 the  USFWS  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 in 2009.  Their numbers plummeted from 52 to 42 wolves. Ten wolves lost, two confirmed shot and six more likely shot.

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

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.”

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.

“USFWS relies on captive wolves being reintroducedand pup survival to maintain or increase the population. 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 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, in the expanse of Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, which encompasses the Gila and Apache National Forests, over 4.4 million acres, there isn’t a place for 39 wolves, much less a hundred? 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.”

USFWS better figure out how to help these animals survive before they go extinct in the wild AGAIN!  Every single wolf is a national treasure to be protected. USFWS needs to aggressively go after the low life poachers, slapping them with long jail sentences and huge fines. Otherwise it will be business as usual, wolves shot and killed and their killers walking free. If those pathetic excuses for human beings think they can shoot a wolf and get away with it, what incentive do they have to stop?

Aside from the cretin poachers, until recently it was the USFWS themselves that was getting in the way of wolf recovery, with their heavy-handed “wolf management” measures, that got many wolves killed over livestock. The USFWS killed 151 Mexican gray wolves since their reintroduction, including over 20 puppies. That is simply outrageous.

Here are the grim statistics of Mexican gray wolves killed by USFWS since 1998.

Mexican wolf management removals from the Blue Range Population, Arizona and New Mexico, 1998-2010.

http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/mexicanwolf/pdf/MW_removals.pdf

If those wolves were alive today, what a difference it could have made in Mexican gray wolf recovery. We might be at 100 wolves instead of 39.

Lobos of the Southwest states:

“Wolves have done what is needed to thrive in the wild: They have formed packs, had pups and successfully hunted elk and deer.

Unfortunately, the recovery effort has failed to reach the first reintroduction objective of at least 100 wolves in the wild. Until recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s aggressive wolf “control” measures repeatedly knocked the population down. The wild population of Mexican gray wolves has declined over the past five years, and at the end of 2008, only about 50 wolves lived in the wilds of the Southwest. The wild population was lower at the beginning of 2009 than it was at the end of 2003.”

Time is running out for wolves in the Southwest. The loss of the three alpha males is beyond measure. The Hawks Nest pack have seven pups and the Paradise and San Mateo packs are believed to have pups. The poachers disrupted the social structure of three wolf packs who may never be the same again. Even though USFWS is supplementing the diet of the San Mateo and Paradise Packs, losing their fathers is a huge blow. You can hardly call them packs anymore. It’s just the alpha females alone with their puppies.

It’s obvious drastic measure need to be taken. Even though the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area is prime wolf habitat, most of the land is heavily grazed by cattle.

Many Southwest ranchers don’t want wolves or any predators around for that matter. USFWS should think about moving or widening the wolves range to a more wolf friendly environment.

Why not expand the wolves recovery area outside the Gila and Apache National Forests to Grand Canyon National Parkfor starters? Or start retiring grazing leases.

It’s ridiculous cattle are causing wolves to die, especially since 94% of the Blue Range Recovery Area is public land.

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. Poaching has to be stopped. Hopefully the $50,000 reward will be enough to rat out the killer!!

Please contact:

US Department of the Interior
http://www.doi.gov/public/contact-us.cfm

USFWS Mexican Wolf Recovery Program
http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/mexicanwolf/comments_form.html

Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program
http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/mexicanwolf/

New Mexico Department of Fish and Game
http://www.wildlife.state.nm.us/contact/index.htm

Arizona Fish and Game Dept.
http://www.azgfd.gov/comments.shtml

From Lobos of the Southwest:

Editors in Arizona and New Mexico

Regional/National

http://www.mexicanwolves.org/index.php?page=letters-to-editors

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Upper Photo: Courtesy National Geographic

Middle Fork Pack Photos: Courtesy USFWS

Posted in: Mexican gray wolves,  gray wolf/canis lupus

Tags: Hawks Nest Pack, critically endangered species, Paradise Pack,  San Mateo Pack, Arizona, New Mexico, low life poachers,  $50,000 reward

Some hope:

Five new Mexican gray wolf pups at St. Louis facility represent new hope for their species

July 1, 2010

 http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/unleashed/2010/07/five-new-mexican-gray-wolf-pups-at-st-louis-facility-represent-new-hope-for-their-species.html

 
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