Mexican wolves get good news, but is it enough to turn the species around?

Mexican Wolf Release

Mexican Wolf Release, Photo credit: Tom Buckley, USFWS.

Dangerously endangered Mexican wolves have some good news recently–their numbers are slightly up and Catron County dropped its crackpot lawsuit. Could this finally mean the long-promised revival of the faltering program to reintroduce the most endangered mammal in North America?

Here’s the good news. The yearly aerial count turned up 50 wolves, including 14 pups from last year and two adults released.

The Fish and Wildlife Service had only released a single wolf since 2006 and broken many promises to do so. So, their follow-through came as something of a shock. The male (M1049) and female (F1105) were released separately, each into the territory of packs that badly needed a wolf of that gender after shootings by poachers just last year.

Poaching remains the biggest obstacle to this subspecies’ survival. The FWS hasn’t bothered to update the already grim-looking statistics on Mexican wolf population. Only one wolf found dead in 2010 and awaiting necropsy? I wish. Instead six wolves died under suspicious circumstances last year, Rene Romo reported in the Albuquerque Journal. Since the program started 75 wolves have died, at least 32 illegally shot by ranchers. Oh, sorry, since the crimes are barely prosecuted, ranchers like to claim it’s really out-of-state elk hunters.

Catron and Otero county and a few ranchers and ranching associations withdrew their suit demanding the federal government remove wolves from federal land so that they can more easily graze cattle at steep discounts.

But wolf watchers are skeptical. “There have been a lot of promises that have been unspecific that a new day is dawning,” says Michael Robinson, a conservationist who is an expert on the Mexican wolf issue at the Center for Biological Diversity.

He notes that between 1998 and 2007, federal agencies shot a staggering 11 endangered Mexican wolves. Wolf managers accidentally killed another 18 because of lousy capture techniques. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson stopped the removals after the state caught a ranch hand had luring a wolf pack with a pregnant cow so that the government would kill the pack. But 32 wolves remain in a kind of wolf jail for the crime of threatening livestock.

But on the positive side the Fish and Wildlife Service is finally assembling a wolf recovery team, to meet in the next couple months, and figure out an overall roadmap for the species. They may formally allow wolves to roam outside the official recovery area–instead of rounding them up. And a longtime FWS worker Sherry Barrett is stepping up to replace Bud Fazio.

Where to Go See Wolves in the Wild

A map of where to see captive Mexican gray wolves

View Mexican Gray Wolves in a larger map

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