Written by Benjamin Fisher
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, responsible for the ongoing recovery of the Mexican gray wolf, shot and killed one of the endangered wolves in Arizona at the end of August — a wolf whose pack has been blamed by several groups for the killing of too many livestock in its range.
The reintroduction and recovery of the endangered Mexican gray wolf has been the source of much controversy between livestock producers, environmentalists and the state and federal agencies involved in the wolves’ recovery. This stems in large part from the wolves’ inevitable depredation of some of the area’s livestock, and just how balanced government attempts to protect livestock producers from losses are on one side or the other.
The current Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Plan requires Fish and Wildlife to repay farmers and ranchers who apply and can prove that their livestock have been killed by the wolves. But, the application process is extensive and members of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, for instance, have told the Daily Press that the payments never make up for the losses. The plan also allows Fish and Wildlife the authority to kill wolves that prove an undue threat to livestock or wild ungulates.
“In regards to Mexican wolf f1557, we have had an excessive number of livestock depredations, several of which included this wolf or other members of the Diamond Pack (8 depredation incidents in 2017),” wrote Fish and Wildlife External Affairs Officer John Bradley. “It is our intent to minimize the effects of Mexican wolves on livestock producers. The White Mountain Apache Tribe also reporting depredations by the Diamond Pack and requested removal.”
Once they heard of the wolf’s killing, the Center for Biological Diversity — long a proponent of the Mexican gray wolf recovery — lashed out against the action, calling it unnecessary. The Center has maintained from the beginning that if ranchers here used preventative measures as those in other regions do, to scare wolves away and get rid of dead livestock that draw wolves in, they would suffer fewer depredations. Bradley, though, said those work most of the time, not all.
“We strive to reduce conflicts between wolves and livestock through implementation of proactive conflict avoidance measures and hazing, but these measures don’t work in all situations,” Bradley said. “In this case, both trapping and lethal removal were included in the removal order to enable us to quickly respond to the ongoing depredations that were occurring.”
In addition to this most recently killing of a Mexican gray wolf, four adult and four pup wolves have been removed into captivity in 2017, due to Fish and Wildlife goals, and a surprise arrival from over the border in Mexico.
Michael Robinson, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, implied that the killing was politically motivated.
“It’s sickening that the Trump administration is so heartless it would gun down Mexican wolves on behalf of the livestock industry,” he said. “The Diamond Pack has needlessly lost a member of its family, and the recovery of endangered Mexican gray wolves has taken an unnecessary step backward.”
Bradley said the killing fit criteria that Fish and Wildlife has always followed, and that “the Mexican wolf recovery program has remained consistent in our planning and management of the Mexican wolf and we have not received any new directions from the current administration.”
It is true that no Mexican gray wolves were killed in response to livestock depredations during President Barack Obama’s administration, according to Fish and Wildlife records. The last killed for that reason was in 2007. But, according to those records, one Mexican gray wolf was killed in 2011 and another in 2015. Bradley said those were killed for “nuisance behavior.” He described that as a wolf being “defined as habituated to humans, human residences, or other facilities regularly occupied by humans or aggressive when unprovoked toward humans.”
Bradley said the Diamond Pack, from which this wolf was “lethally removed,” is not currently known to move into New Mexico, staying primarily on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.