Center for Biological Diversity

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Contact: Michael Robinson, (505) 534-0360

Fish and Wildlife Service Moves To Expand Predator
Control Against Endangered Mexican Wolves

Pinos Altos, N.M. -- Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its approval of a controversial set of recommendations for the endangered Mexican wolf that will leave the government unrestrained to kill and trap wolves for the next few years. The move is a precursor to an eventual rule change that will result in even more wolves being subject to the federal predator control program.

“This is the Bush administration’s formal announcement that it will ignore the pleas of independent scientists to reduce wolf mortality by addressing the problem of cattle and horse carcasses that habituate wolves to preying on livestock,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity in Pinos Altos, New Mexico.

The recommendations were developed by the interagency Mexican Wolf Adaptive Management Oversight Committee in its Blue Range Wolf Reintroduction Project’s Five-Year Review. They are available via the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s website at: MW 5-Year Review AMOC Recommendations Component.

The recommendations, approved three years and three months late (from the five-year anniversary of the reintroduction program’s inception in March 1998), include the following four elements that will further jeopardize the Mexican wolf's survival and ultimately prevent its recovery:

• No regulations will be promulgated to protect wolves from scavenging on livestock carcasses of cattle and horses that die of non-wolf causes (recommendation 12a). Thus wolves will continue to be trapped and shot as a result of preying on livestock after becoming habituated through such scavenging.
• The states of New Mexico and Arizona will be allowed to cap the wolf population at 125 animals and prevent numbers from increasing substantially beyond that (recommendation 11) – thus preventing recovery and keeping the Mexican wolf endangered forever.
• The public will be authorized to shoot wolves said to be attacking dogs (recommendation 10), despite documented instances in which ranchers have baited wolves with dead livestock to ensure the wolves’ removal. Thus anyone who owns a dog will have cart blanche authority to shoot a wolf or even an entire wolf pack.
• Under the guise of allowing wolves to roam outside of the recovery area boundaries (as all other endangered species in the United States are allowed to do), the Mexican wolf experimental population area – where wolves have fewer protections under the Endangered Species Act – will be expanded (recommendation 5). Thus areas that are pivotal for wolves to recover, such as the Sky Islands of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, will be “subject to management consistent with current Blue Range Reintroduction Project SOPs” (recommendation 5c). Since the Sky Islands are more arid than the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, wolves would need larger home ranges there to get enough to eat; and since the Sky Islands have much smaller areas without livestock and wolves will be subject to the same rigid and punitive predator control protocol that has proved disastrous in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, the area will be a black hole for wolves.

The Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area consists of the Apache and Gila National Forests in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, respectively. Currently the experimental population area consists of the entire region between I-10 and 1-40 in both states.

“Expanding the experimental population area is a poison-pill provision to sabotage wolf recovery in the Sky Islands ecosystem,” said Robinson. Much of the Sky Islands ecosystem is outside the currently constituted experimental population area.

The Sky Islands, which include such mountain ranges as the Animas, Peloncillos, Chiricahuas, Galiuros and Pinelenos, are the only part of the United States in which the Mexican wolf is native. The Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) evolved in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico and the Sky Islands. The Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area is north of this area and is the former home of the extinct Mogollon Mountains wolf (C. l. mogollensis).

Pioneering ecologist Aldo Leopold called the Mexican wolf the “desert wolf” in recognition of its arid habitat in the Sierra Madres and Sky Islands.

Another recommendation (#6) serves as a subterfuge to disguise the continued impacts of federal predator control on the Mexican wolf by changing the objective of the reintroduction project. The objective described in the 1996 environmental impact statement on the wolf's reintroduction was to build a population within the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area of at least 100 wolves, including 18 breeding pairs, by the end of this year. The new objective is to reach 100 wolves within the much larger (and due to be expanded) experimental population area – thus diluting the same number of wolves in a much larger landscape.

The census (ie. actually counted) number of Mexican wolves in the wild was 55 animals at the end of 2003, 44 at the end of 2004 and 35 at the end of 2005 – a 20 percent decline each year. So far this year, the federal government has killed 12 wolves.

The 2001 Three-Year Review of the Mexican wolf reintroduction program – which unlike the Five-Year Review was conducted by independent scientists – recommended reducing wolf mortality by requiring ranchers to remove or render inedible (by applying lime) livestock carcasses that die of non-wolf causes so the wolves will not become habituated by such scavenging.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its predecessor agency poisoned, trapped and shot all gray wolves from the western United States between 1915 and 1945. Starting in 1950, the Fish and Wildlife Service sent salaried personnel and government poisons to Mexico to duplicate its successful district-by-district extermination program south of the border. The Fish and Wildlife Service continued to kill Mexican wolves through the 1960s.

After passage of the Endangered Species Act on December 28, 1973, only five Mexican wolves (four males and one female) could be captured alive in Mexico for an emergency captive breeding program. No wolves have been confirmed alive in the wild in Mexico since 1980. In 1986, the Fish and Wildlife Service identified the Mexican wolf as the most endangered mammal in North America.

Reintroduction of the Mexican wolf was opposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service and only occurred after conservationists sued the agency in 1990, which resulted in a 1993 stipulated settlement agreement.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization with more than 25,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and habitat.


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