For Immediate Release, August 28, 2009
Contact: Michael Robinson, (575) 534-0360
Mexican Wolf Pack Left to Roam Wild
SILVER CITY, N.M.— Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to spare the Middle Fork Pack of endangered Mexican gray wolves from removal from the wild, despite their having killed five head of cattle on the Gila National Forest, in a second heartening instance of the agency stepping back from Bush-era persecution of the animals regarded as North America’s most imperiled mammals.
“We applaud the Fish and Wildlife Service for making the right decision,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We have been very worried about the Middle Fork wolves.”
The Middle Fork Pack consists of two three-legged adult wolves, who each lost one leg as a result of stepping into privately set leghold traps, a yearling from last year, and four pups born this spring. This family group is one of a maximum of three packs in New Mexico that may have reproduced this year.
The Middle Fork wolves live in the heavily grazed Beaverhead area of the Gila National Forest, where, over the past several years, five other wolf packs previously lived until they were trapped out and shot by the federal government in response to pressure from the livestock industry.
“Lackadaisical Forest Service management, severe grazing during drought, trespass stock, and scattered carcasses of cattle that died of non-wolf causes that draw wolves in to scavenge all guarantee continued conflicts between wolves and livestock,” pointed out 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 16 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.
“Preventing conflicts with livestock on the national forests makes more sense than scapegoating endangered wolves once conflicts begin,” said Robinson.
Overall, elk, deer, and other native hoofed mammals comprise 88.6 percent of the Mexican wolves’ diets, and cattle just 4.2 percent, according to a peer-reviewed 2006 study based on analysis of the wolves’ scat.
Last year, in the entirety of New Mexico and Arizona, only 52 wolves and just two breeding pairs survived. A new count will take place in January 2010.
Before the reintroduction began in 1998, the Fish and Wildlife Service projected that by 2006 the wolf population in the Gila and Apache national forests in, respectively, New Mexico and Arizona, would grow to 102 wolves including 18 breeding pairs. Instead, government shooting of 11 wolves, inadvertent killing of 18 wolves as a result of capture, and catching and not releasing an additional 37 wolves has stymied population growth.
Today’s Fish and Wildlife Service decision contradicted a recommendation by the Arizona Department of Game and Fish, which chairs the interagency Mexican Wolf Adaptive Management Oversight Committee, to remove one of the adult wolves. The New Mexico Game and Fish Department supported leaving the wolves in the wild.
This June, Arizona Department of Game and Fish recommended removing another wolf in New Mexico “by the most efficient means available,” a euphemism for aerial shooting. The Fish and Wildlife Service also subsequently spared that animal, who is still in the wild and has not been implicated in any additional killings of livestock.