February 19, 2006
The number of endangered Mexican gray wolves that could be confirmed in the wild declined for the third successive year in 2005 as a result of trapping and shooting of wolves by the U.S. government, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
The number could drop further, the group warned, with the Luna Pack of Mexican wolves repeatedly encountering and feeding on livestock carcasses of animals they did not kill, which is likely to induce them to predate on livestock.
At the end of 2003, the interagency Mexican wolf reintroduction field team could document 55 wolves in the wild, said CBD. At the end of 2004, 44 wolves were documented, and at the end of 2005, 35 wolves were documented in the wild — representing a 20 percent decline each year.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with statutory authority to recover Mexican wolves, projected 55 wolves at the end of 2003, 68 at the end of 2004 and 83 by the end of 2005, said CBD.
Adding to concerns is the decline in number of breeding pairs, defined as a male and female wolf with at least two pups surviving until December 31. Breeding pairs are an important index of movement toward a self-sustaining population, CBD pointed out. The number dropped from six to five between 2004 and 2005. It had been projected by USFWS to reach 12 in 2004 and 15 in 2005.
The government removed eight wolves, including two breeding pairs, from the wild population in New Mexico during 2005 through trapping or shooting due to conflicts with the livestock industry.
The Mexican Wolf Adaptive Management Oversight Committee (AMOC) pledged in its five-year review of the reintroduction project to take no regulatory action to address the problem of wolves becoming habituated to livestock as a result of scavenging, thus likely dooming the Luna Pack and making further population declines predictable, said CBD.
“The bureaucracy has spent millions of dollars producing hundreds of pages worth of reports, holding countless meetings, and ‘controlling’ dozens of wolves to placate the livestock industry, and yet it is incapable of following the simple directions of scientists, who in 2001 recommended urgent regulatory changes to recover this critically endangered animal,” said Michael Robinson of CBD.
The 2001 three-year review, conducted by independent scientists, according to CBD, recommended:
- Allowing wolves to roam outside the arbitrary boundaries of the recovery area, as all other endangered species (including wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains) are permitted.
- Releasing wolves directly from captivity into the Gila National Forest of New Mexico.
- Requiring ranchers to assume some responsibility for disposal or destruction of livestock carcasses on public lands before wolves scavenge them.
None of these recommendations have been implemented.
The five-year review reiterates the first two recommendations, but notes it will take additional years to carry out, and opposes the management of livestock carcasses — while in the northern Rocky Mountains federal regulations withhold government wolf-control services in areas where livestock carcasses attract wolves to begin depredating.
According to CBD, the AMOC intended to institute a moratorium on Mexican wolf releases this year, at the behest of ranchers who met with the USFWS in two private meetings on Feb. 12, 2005, but the low number of breeding pairs precludes doing so. Nevertheless, its track record indicates releasing wolves to the wild often takes a back seat to removing them from the wild, said CBD. The five-year review states that a reason for the lack of releases of new packs to the wild in 2005 was because the field team devoted so many resources to wolf control in the last quarter of 2004 “that a proposal for new releases in 2005 was not submitted to AMOC.” (ARPCC-219)
Despite the lack of releases from captivity, however, wolf numbers were expected to increase due to reproduction. Wolves are fecund animals with a high natural growth rate and considerable flexibility in utilizing habitats, CBD noted. As a result, every other gray wolf reintroduction program has resulted in robust and often exponential population growth.
For example, CBD reported that the wolf reintroduction that began in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho three years prior to the Mexican wolf reintroduction has led to almost 1,000 wolves in the wild in the northern Rocky Mountains today. However, in the Southwest, wolf control instituted through steel leg-hold traps, shooting from the ground and aerial pursuit/shooting more than offset the birth of pups. The Mexican wolf program, which operates on different principles than other endangered species recovery programs, is experiencing an unprecedented decline.
The five-year review, according to CBD, documents that Congress funds $150,000 annually directly for Mexican wolf control. But, the group pointed out, that amount only counts U.S. Department of Agriculture expenditures, and does not include discretionary USDA expenditures in trapping and killing wolves, nor the resources (including personnel) spent on Mexican wolf control by other federal and state agencies.
For example, USFWS employees often run trap lines, and on May 27, 2003, an USFWS employee shot the first Mexican wolf deliberately killed by the federal government since reintroduction began in 1998, said CBD.
“The wolves know instinctively how to survive,” said Robinson. “But government wolf control continues to hammer them. The Fish and Wildlife Service hides behind the rest of the inter-agency anti-wolf bureaucracy and refuses to institute reforms that would bring the Mexican wolf reintroduction program up to the standards of other endangered species recovery programs.”
“The lobo needs less political management and more scientific management if it is to recover,” Robinson added.
According to CBD, USFWS identified the Mexican wolf in 1986 as the most imperiled mammal in North America. Reduced by a U.S. government extermination program to just five wild survivors captured alive in Mexico between 1977 and 1980, the progeny of those wolves was first reintroduced into the Southwest in 1998.
Source: Center for Biological Diversity.