Mexican Wolf May Get Declared Endangered Finally

Mexican wolf. Credit: Jim Clark / USFWS

Mexican wolf. Jim Clark / USFWS

The Mexican Gray Wolf, which is now down to about 40 wild individual animals, may finally get real endangered species status on its own.  The Fish and Wildlife Service announced they’ll make their decision after reading public comments submitted until October 4.

Mexican wolves have had various protections of the Endangered Species Act since 1973, both alone and under the umbrella of the gray wolf population. (It’s a subspecies). Last year the gray wolf  was de-listed, but only in certain areas (a decision Defenders of Wildlife and other groups are hoping to overturn). That leaves the Mexican wolf, also known as lobo, in a kind of limbo. It’s technically endangered, but only as a wolf in general, with the confusing designation of  “experimental, non-essential.”

So the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the FWS to upgrade the distinct population subspecies.

“This is one step in what is going to be a long process,” says Michael Robinson, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, “to get management for what has been a badly mismanaged population.”
Robinson doesn’t expect this federal proposal to get a lot of letters opposing reintroduction of the Mexican wolf–which was wiped out by cattlemen by the 1950s. “They simply don’t engage on the science,” he says. “They’re much better at trying to gin up fear.” Robinson is confident in the science on listing the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), which is smaller and redder than the typical gray wolf, as a distinct population.
If nothing else, the new designation  force the FWS to update the Mexican wolf plan, which was written in 1982 and expected at least 100 wolves by 2005. That, in turn, could lead to reintroducing the wolves in less hostile territory, maybe even the Grand Canyon.

The biggest threat to the Mexican wolf is a bunch of local yahoos who’ve been shooting the animals–at least 34 wolves overall, including two this year. Wolf opponents might shoot the animals in other states, but because there are so few of the Mexican wolf the shootings have a big impact, Buckley says.

Arizona and New Mexico cowboys opposed the reintroduction largely on grounds it will interfere with their low-cost cattle grazing on public lands.  They’ve also tried to buy into the primitive fear that wolves are an imminent threat to people and pets. Catron County, NM, spews a lot of anti-wolf nonsense and set up a “wolf hotline” to report wolf attacks on people. (Operators are standing by.)  This poor, ranching county, which has a history of wacky plans to butt  in on federal decision making, went so far as hiring a marksman to shoot any wolves that caused “psychological effects.” Robinson notes they have a long, absurd history of bucking federal authority. “They’ve been desperate to find an authentic case of a Mexican wolf attacking a human being,” he says.

Ironically, all of this wolf hunting and anti-wolf posturing may be what pushes federal biologists to give these guys an to special care as a distinct population. That could  mean new thinking on livestock grazing in local federal forests (maybe just requiring ranchers pick up carcasses, perhaps), rules on off-roading there (12 wolves have been killed by car crashes) and the nearby animal-proof wall bordering Mexico.

Just as importantly, it will require a more careful management of the subspecies. One of the most heartbreaking part of the Mexican wolves’ recent history is that while the FWS is working to bring them back, the USDA’s Wildlife Services is pushing them off the land. They shot four in 2007 and 11 altogether.  Another 18 died as a direct result of the stressful capture methods, says Robinson, author of Predatory Bureaucracy, which details the agency that oversees killing animals for agriculture. And dozens more were scooped up and never returned to the wild.

The FWS hasn’t released many wolves in recent years, but may be able to release some this fall. FWS spokesman Tom Buckley says one candidate is a mother in captivity and the cubs she gave birth to this year.

Where to Go See Wolves

Read about the Apache tribe’s effort to offer a Mexican wolf tour.

What Else is Wildlife Services Killing?

The wildlife services notices are confusing, but you can submit comments to this email.

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