Feds Kill First Wolf Since Reintroduction
By Jeff Jones Journal Staff Writer
A Mexican gray wolf known as Alpha Female 592 this week became the first of the endangered species shot and killed by the federal government since wolf reintroduction efforts in the Southwest started five years ago.
The 4-year-old wolf — which had been captured in 2001 after notching up five calf killings — was re-released deep into the Gila Wilderness of southwestern New Mexico last month but made its way to the Rafter Spear Ranch near Winston in Catron County.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Victoria Fox said Thursday the wolf wounded a calf there and eluded attempts to capture it — a fate that had befallen AF592′s mate on May 21.
The female wolf was shot dead Tuesday evening on the Catron County ranch by a member of the state and federal team that is handling the wolf reintroduction program.
Rafter Spear Ranch owner Laura Schneberger said Thursday the wolf and its mate killed a total three calves and wounded two others. She added it was a “very bad idea” to re-release a wolf that had proven itself a cow-killer.
“I’m very glad they dealt with it,” Schneberger said, “but I’d just as soon she put her foot in a trap and was back in captivity. It just is a tragic thing. Everybody just feels bad.”
Michael Robinson, spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Thursday the killing of AF592 was the result of a series of missteps by the federal government.
“They should not have killed her,” Robinson said. “It’s a terrible precedent.”
Although several of the endangered Mexican gray wolves have been illegally shot, hit by vehicles and have died of natural causes since the first batch of 11 wolves was released into eastern Arizona in 1998, Fox confirmed that AF592 was the first Mexican gray to be shot by the government since the effort began.
She said the killing was a low point in the program but was necessary.
The Fish and Wildlife service estimates there are now at least 34 wolves in southwestern New Mexico and eastern Arizona, where they were thought to have been once hunted to extinction. The agency hopes wolves that denned this spring have added more to the current total.
The wolf killed this week was pregnant at the time of its release on April 18, but its litter was believed to have been lost sometime before it was shot, Fox said.
The shooting and capture leaves New Mexico with two packs totalling an estimated six wolves.
“Her lack of fear of humans and the continued interest in cattle is why this decision was made — to exercise the lethal control action,” Fox said. “(We) all feel some responsibility. We also have a responsibility to the rancher, and we have a responsibility to ensure these wolves are out there being good, wild wolves.”
Robinson said the wolf, which had initially been released three years ago in Arizona, was recaptured later that same year for committing only one transgression: crossing an invisible line designating the boundary of the wolf-recovery area.
“Wolves roam vast distances — that’s part of their nature,” he said. “The rule that requires them to be removed doesn’t take into account (that) they need to roam those vast distances.”
Environmentalists have said wild wolves are learning bad habits because ranchers are allowed to leave livestock carcasses on public land, and Robinson’s group has threatened to sue the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management over the issue.
“She got a taste for beef — and she began killing cattle,” Robinson said of the wolf shot this week.
Schneberger estimated the two wolves traveled 35-40 miles to get to her ranch.
After the attacks on the cows began, a Fish and Wildlife Service worker began sleeping outside with the Rafter Spear Ranch herd, Schneberger said.
“He spent the nights out in the middle of our herd of cows,” she said. “They got one right out from underneath his nose.”
Schneberger said the female left the ranch for a few days after her mate was trapped but promptly returned.
“There was a real problem brewing with this animal,” she said.
Fox said the fate of the trapped alpha male, known as AM648, has yet to be decided.
U.S. deliberately kills endangered wolf
By Thomas Stauffer
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
For the first time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has deliberately killed an endangered Mexican gray wolf, a species the agency reintroduced to eastern Arizona in 1998.
The female adult was shot and killed Tuesday in the Gila National Forest in western New Mexico, said Victoria Fox, a spokeswoman for Fish and Wildlife in Albuquerque.
The wolf that was deliberately shot and her mate, captured in a leg-hold trap May 21, had been preying on livestock, Fox said. The female had attacked three head of cattle, killing one calf and injuring two others, since the male’s capture, she said.
“This wolf had been given tremendous consideration in order to see her be successful in the wild before the decision to take lethal-control action was made,” Fox said. “That was a decision that was very carefully made.”
Fox also reported the death of another female adult wolf found Sunday near the Arizona town of Vernon in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest. The wolf will be taken to the service’s forensics laboratory in Oregon to determine the cause of death.
The agency’s deliberate killing of the New Mexico wolf and the declining numbers of the endangered animals reflect a systematic mismanagement of the recovery program, said Michael Robinson, a spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity in Piños Altos, N.M.
Wolves will continue to suffer due to policies demanded by the livestock industry and supported by Interior Secretary Gale Norton, he said. “The service needs to immediately change their policies and follow the recommendations made by scientists in a report they themselves commissioned,” Robinson said.
The report recommended several changes in the reintroduction program, including steps to remove cattle and horse carcasses on national forest land to keep wolves from scavenging on them and becoming habituated to them, Robinson said.
Fox said the action to kill the wolf is consistent with the service’s other gray wolf reintroduction programs.
“This was based on the wolf’s continued behavior, a lack of fear of humans and her cattle depredation, basically conduct unbecoming a wild wolf,” she said.
Wildlife officials kill Mexican gray wolf
Mary Jo Pitzl
The Arizona Republic
For the first time, a federal agency has shot and killed a Mexican gray wolf, even while it is trying to bring the wolves back from the brink of extinction.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that it killed a female wolf in southern New Mexico on Tuesday. The wolf had been attacking cattle, and eluded efforts to trap it, wildlife officials said.
The killing was lamented by the Center for Biological Diversity, which blamed the shooting on the agency’s willingness to placate ranchers.
In a news release, center biologist Michael Robinson said the shooting reflects “systematic mismanagement of the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service said its policy is to remove wolves that prey on cattle. The wolf, called 592 and a member of the “Sycamore Pack,” had been moved several times to separate her from cattle areas, the agency said. But she continued to hunt livestock.
The wolf’s death leaves 19 wolves in eastern Arizona and New Mexico. The U.S. government in 1998 started reintroducing the Mexican gray wolf as part of its plan to boost the animal’s ranks under the Endangered Species Act.