SILVER CITY — Shrouded in secrecy in mid-November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured alive and removed another Mexican gray wolf from the wild in response to the killing of cattle on national forest and state lands in east-central Arizona. The removal of the male wolf accelerates the extinction threat of the unique southwestern subspecies that has already seen at least 11 deaths and one other removal this year and declined 13 percent last year, leaving only 97 animals in Arizona and New Mexico. The captured wolf had a mate who is still in the wild.
“The Mexican gray wolf simply can’t afford more animals being removed from the wild or even killed because of the occasional cattle loss,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The research shows that non-lethal efforts to protect livestock are far more effective than removing or killing wolves. Yet, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has steadfastly refused to require ranchers to do anything to protect their livestock prior to removing or killing wolves.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service has long flouted the recommendations of scientists in the management of the Mexican gray wolf. For example in 2008 the Association of Zoos and Aquariums requested a moratorium on permanent removals of Mexican wolves “until an expert taskforce on genetic issues can be convened to provide guidance to these actions.” The Service has yet to convene such a taskforce and had no knowledge of the latest captured wolf’s genetic composition before removing him because he was born in the wild and had never previously been captured. The Service rarely re-releases wolves once they’ve been taken into captivity.
Similarly in 2007 the American Society of Mammalogists, the leading association of scientists who study mammals, opposed removing Mexican wolves “at least until the interim 100-wolf goal of the current reintroduction program has been achieved,” and urged the Service to “protect wolves from the consequences of scavenging on livestock carcasses” — a frequent precursor to depredations.
The latest removal of a wolf follows removals of other wolves in past years on behalf of the same livestock owner. It is not known whether carcasses of non-wolf-killed stock contributed to the recent depredations. But documents received by the Center under the Freedom of Information Act show that the last Mexican wolf removed by the government – a male from the Luna Pack trapped in May in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico — was drawn to vulnerable cattle through scavenging on carcasses of cows that had died due to birthing complications.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service maintains that it can recover wolves through traps and bullets — some of the same tools that the same agency used decades ago in exterminating them,” said Robinson. “But appeasing the public-lands livestock industry in this manner has led to repeated population downturns and consistent failure to meet the Service’s own metrics for progress. Every trapped wolf is not just an individual animal suffering, along with a mate wandering the wild forlorn, but represents another step toward extinction.”