For Immediate Release, February 6, 2009
Contact: Michael Robinson, (575) 313-7017
Mexican Wolf Breeding Pairs Drop to Two in 2008:
Federal Trapping and Shooting Brings Reintroduced Population of
Endangered Species to Brink of Collapse
SILVER CITY, N.M.— By the end of 2008 there were only two breeding pairs of Mexican gray wolves in the wild, according to figures announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today after an interagency count of radio-collared and uncollared wolves in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona.
The environmental impact statement on the 1998 reintroduction of the Mexican wolf to the wild had projected 18 breeding pairs and 102 wolves total in the wild by the end of 2006 – numbers that were expected to increase thereafter to establish a viable wild population.
This represents a decline from just three breeding pairs by the end of 2007 for the only wild population of this endangered animal in the world. The total number of Mexican wolves in the wild stayed stagnant at 52 animals from the end of 2007 to the end of 2008.
“The latest failure of the Mexican wolf reintroduction program to meet targets stems from the government’s trapping and shooting of 19 wolves in 2007, including reproductively successful pairs,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity in Silver City, New Mexico. Silver City is at the edge of the Gila National Forest, part of the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area.
A breeding pair is defined in the January 12, 1998 Federal Register rule that authorized reintroduction of Mexican wolves as “an adult male and an adult female wolf that have produced at least two pups during the previous breeding season that survived until December 31 of the year of their birth.” 50 CFR § 17.84(k)(15)
During 2007 the government trapped 16 wolves from the wild and shot an additional three. No wolves were subject to federal “predator control” in 2008, largely due to efforts by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to keep wolves in the wild. But those objections may not suffice to prevent additional trapping and shooting this year unless policies are changed.
The U.S. government has shot 11 wolves since reintroduction began, killed 18 inadvertently as a result of capture, and in addition has trapped and not released 34 others – for a total of 63 removed wolves. This does not include wolves who were trapped and later released but face additional obstacles to survival as a result of their removal, including trap injuries and relocation to unfamiliar areas. Trapping and moving wolves often results in the break-up of family packs.
“Wolves are intelligent, family-oriented animals,“ said Robinson. “Trapping and shooting them disrupts their packs, separates mated pairs, and can leave pups without parents.”
The second-largest loss to the population is illegal shooting; 32 wolves are known to have been illegally killed since 1998.
The reintroduction program is intended to establish the first population of Mexican wolves in the wild, with at least one more reintroduction project elsewhere called for in the 1982 Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan. That plan does not include criteria to identify when the wolves would be recovered and could be taken off the endangered species list.
The anemic numbers had been anticipated by four independent scientists led by Dr. Paul Paquet, who in 2001 had written the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Three-Year Review of the reintroduction project, and wrote that without additional protection ”the wolf population will fall short of predictions for upcoming years” (Paquet Report, p. 27). The Fish and Wildlife Service failed to heed their warnings and instead increased the trapping and shooting of wolves.
In 2007, the American Society of Mammalogists passed a resolution calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to “suspend all predator control directed at Mexican gray wolves at least until the interim 100-wolf goal of the current reintroduction program has been achieved.”
“The Mexican wolf cannot afford any more government trapping and shooting,” said Robinson. “This animal is on the brink.”
The Mexican gray wolf has been identified as the most imperiled mammal in North America. Wolves were exterminated from the western United States by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its predecessor agency between 1915 and 1945. Beginning in 1950, the Fish and Wildlife Service began exporting its custom-concocted poisons and its own salaried personnel to Mexico to duplicate its systematic poisoning program south of the border. Mexican wolves were saved from extinction after passage of the 1973 Endangered Species Act and the subsequent live capture for breeding of the last five known Mexican wolves in the wild, in Mexico; only one of those last five animals was female.
The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity was founded in 1989 in a remote private inholding on the Gila National Forest, and is now a national conservation group based in Tucson, Arizona and maintaining an office in the Gila region. In 1990, under an earlier incarnation as the Wolf Action Group, the Center sued to compel a reluctant Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce the Mexican gray wolf; it settled that suit in 1993. Since reintroduction began in March 1998 the Center has maintained an ongoing field presence in the areas where wolves most often come to tragic ends.