April 11, 2012
Citing benefits to wolves in the Southwest and to the broader ecosystem, several conservation and outdoors groups last month urged the U.S. Department of Interior to release Mexican wolves from the captive-breeding program into the wild this year, including releasing wolves into New Mexico, which is currently prohibited.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, no release has occurred since 2008.
The group said the requests would help stop the loss of genetic diversity among Mexican wolves in the wild, increasing the chance that the gray wolf subspecies may recover. Fifty-eight wolves, including six breeding pairs, were counted in the wild in January 2012, said CBD. Inbreeding is suspected as a cause of lower numbers of pups that are born and survive.
Referencing a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service environmental impact statement, CBD said the 1998 reintroduction of Mexican wolves to Arizona and New Mexico was projected to result in 102 wolves (including 18 breeding pairs) in the wild by the end of 2006. However, no recovery goal has been established for the Mexican wolf, said the group.
The current federal government “… has failed to release even a single Mexican wolf from the captive-breeding program,” said Michael Robinson of CBD.
The Gila National Forest recovery area
Releases of wolves from the captive-breeding pool (comprised of animals that have not lived in the wild) can now only occur in Arizona, while wolves captured in the wild may be released in Arizona and New Mexico. However, CBD pointed out that because of illegal killings of wolves and inbreeding, biologists and the USFWS have recommended a rule change to allow more captive-bred wolves to be released into the remote portion of the bi-state recovery area in the Gila National Forest of New Mexico.
“After more than a decade of bureaucratic inaction, wolves cannot wait any longer,” said Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center. “We are calling on the Fish and Wildlife Service to use its existing authority to take immediate action to get more wolves on the ground before this magnificent creature goes extinct in the wild — for the second time in living memory, only this time it will be government bureaucrats not trappers that are the cause of its demise.”
Benefits of wolves to the ecosystem
“Wolves help protect streamside vegetation from overgrazing by elk, as the experience in Yellowstone National Park shows,” said Donna Stevens, a botanist and executive director of the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance.
“We need more Mexican wolves not just for their own sake and to ensure this unique animal’s survival, but also for the health of the entire ecosystem.”