For Immediate Release, January 25, 2007
Contact: Michael Robinson, (505) 534-0360
Mexican Gray Wolf Numbers Are Dangerously Low:
Only Six Breeding Pairs Cling to Life in the Wild
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Overcounted Wolves to Legalize Slaughter
SILVER CITY, N.M.— Mexican gray wolves, a critically endangered species, are hanging to survival by a fine thread, revealed a press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service yesterday. According to the Service, the federal agency charged with recovering the wolves, only seven breeding pairs could be found in late 2006. Back in 1996, the agency projected there would be 18 pairs by this time.
To add insult to injury, it looks as though the Service is cooking the books. It claims to have located seven breeding pairs in 2006, but one of those, the Bluestem Pack, is not a breeding pair at all according to the legal definition. A breeding pair is a pair that has bred—that is, has “produced at least two pups during the previous breeding season that survived until December 31 of the year of their birth.” But the male wolf who fathered the Bluestem female’s pup died in 2006, probably by gunshot. Although the female has now found a new mate, he is not the father of her pups; nor is it guaranteed the two will ever breed, especially since the female will be ten years old this spring.
“The devil is in the details,” said Michael Robinson, a wolf policy expert at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. “By claiming there are seven pairs of wolves, the agency is rolling out the red carpet for livestock owners who want to slaughter wolves later this year—because the agency’s rules allow it to issue permits to ranchers to kill wolves on public lands only once there are six or more breeding pairs.” By claiming an extra breeding pair, the Service is preparing to wipe out one more pack and still give itself the wiggle room to issue a permit to ranchers to shoot wolves on public lands.
In 2006 alone, the government shot five Mexican wolves, unintentionally killed another eight incidental to their capture, and trapped (without re-releasing) four additional wolves. In total since reintroduction the government has shot eight Mexican wolves, killed 20 by accident, and captured without re-releasing 24. Dozens more that were trapped have been released into unfamiliar territories. Often traumatized and sometimes injured, many of these wolves split apart from their packs and perish.
The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Fish and Wildlife Service on December 14, 2006 to save the Mexican wolf from predator control and mismanagement. The case has not yet been heard.
Census-takers counted a total of 49 wolves and estimated from tracks, scat and other evidence that another ten wolves survive. Twenty-six wolves and four breeding pairs were counted in southwestern New Mexico, and 23 wolves and two breeding pairs in southeastern Arizona—plus Arizona’s Bluestem Pack, which is not a breeding pair. The government’s 1996 study on its reintroduction project, an Environmental Impact Statement, projected 102 wolves. Clearly the program is falling woefully short of even its own modest goal.
In contrast, the reintroduction of northern gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho, which began in 1995 just three years prior to the Southwest’s Mexican wolf reintroduction, has resulted in over 1,000 wolves in the wild. This is because reintroduction to the northern Rockies has not been hobbled by rules that require predator control when wolves cross arbitrary political boundaries and in instances when wolves prey on livestock after first scavenging on stock they did not kill.
The goal of the Mexican wolf reintroduction project, which is supposed to be the first of two reintroductions called for in 1982’s Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, is to establish at least 100 wolves in the wild. But the 2003 census counted 55 wolves; and while this year’s count lasted longer and was facilitated by significant snow on the ground, unlike the 2003 count, wolf numbers appear to be the same or lower. And they would be still lower were it not for continued wolf releases from captivity after 2002, when such releases were originally planned to stop.
“Government shooting and trapping not only keeps the Mexican wolf population down,” Robinson said, “but also constricts the species’ already low genetic diversity and threatens further, irreversible declines in the future. The plight of the lobo is dire.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 32,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and habitat.
The Mexican wolf is no stranger to so-called predator control. Starting in 1915 the U.S. government trapped, poisoned, shot and excavated the dens of wolves in a systematic extermination campaign on behalf of the livestock industry. Breeding populations of Mexican gray wolves were eliminated from the United States by the early 1930s.
In 1945, the Fish and Wildlife Service trapped the last resident gray wolf in the West, in southern Colorado. In 1950, the Service began sending U.S.-government-produced poison and its own salaried personnel to Mexico to duplicate the systematic district-by-district poisoning campaign that had been so deadly in the U.S.
President Richard M. Nixon’s signing of the Endangered Species Act into law on December 28, 1973 led to the capture alive in Mexico, from 1977 to 1980, of the last five wild wolves for an emergency captive-breeding program. No wolves have been confirmed in the wild in Mexico since 1980.
The progeny of three of those last survivors, plus four other purebred Mexican wolves already in captivity, totaling seven animals, were bred in captivity to stave off extinction and enable reintroduction. But starting with only seven founding animals is a risk for inbreeding depression, which lowers animals’ resilience, vigor and reproductive ability. That risk is exacerbated by the Mexican wolf predator-control program.