Wolves were extirpated from the southwest, and are now endangered not because of habitat loss–but because of a federal, state, and private campaign to exterminate them. The reason: cattle ranchers wanted them gone.

Starting in 1914, Congress appropriated $115,000 to hire hundreds of federal hunters whose primary job was killing every wolf, mountain lion, coyote, grizzly and other major predator in the nation. The Mexican gray wolf, a subspecies of canis lupus unique to the American Southwest and Mexico, was completely exterminated from the United States by the mid 1920’s. For decades after this, however, the government kept a full-time trapper on duty along the Peloncillo and Animas Mountains of southwestern New Mexico to kill wolves migrating north from Mexico. But in the 1950’s, with export of the deadly new poison, Compound 1080, the population in Mexico began to crash as well, and today it is questionable whether any wild wolves remain south of the border.

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Mexican wolves—progeny of a tiny handful of survivors captured alive in Mexico—were reintroduced into the Blue Range of southeastern Arizona. The Blue Range was the site of Aldo Leopold’s killing of a wolf in 1909—an act he later lamented in his famous "fierce green fire" passage of A Sand County Almanac.

The wolves were released under the "experimental, nonessential" provisions of the Endangered Species Act, which precludes designation of critical habitat and allows killing of wolves that kill livestock under some circumstances. But this sop to ranchers has not prevented wolves from being killed or removed.

The recovery area for Mexican wolves includes the entirety of the Gila National Forest, as well as the Blue Range. But it excludes adjacent public lands. While the Gila is clearly the best remaining habitat for the species in the Southwest, ultimately wolf corridors should be reestablished in the Peloncillo Range—and the species that strove for decades to reoccupy its northern-most habitat should be allowed to migrate south and reclaim the entire borderless ecosystem it once knew as home.


In 1989, Center founders catalyzed the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf-protected as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since the Act was passed in 1973-into portions of its historic range in the Southwest. Our lawsuit against the Department of the Interior and the Department of Defense resulted in a settlement forcing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and DOD to study the possibility of reintroducing the wolf in the Southwest-a study that resulted in the decision to reintroduce wolves.

The Center also:

  • Dramatically reduced livestock grazing in the wolf recovery area, improving habitat and forestalling cattle rancher conflicts with wolves
  • Helped capture the killer of wolves with a $5,000 reward and an advertisement in the New York Times, and continues to be involved with an ongoing $5,000 reward offer for new killers
  • Educated elementary and high school kids with our "Name a Wolf Pup Contest"
  • Convinced the Fish and Wildlife Service to re-release captured wolves into Gila National Forest
  • Developed a Wolf Safe Haven Plan to guide recovery efforts
  • Continually monitors all aspects of the wolf recovery program
graphic Andrew Rodman ©2002
August 1, 2003
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