The New Mexico Department of Game & Fish is officially on board as a lead agency in Mexican wolf recovery efforts. At a signing ceremony on Nov. 13, Joanna Prukop, Chair of the New Mexico State Game Commission, and Mike Sloane, Director of the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish, signed a formal Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The MOU establishes a framework for collaboration that enables the signatory agencies to implement a long-term, scientifically based program to reintroduce and manage Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico in accordance with the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, First Revision.
In a press release, Prukop said the department’s mission was to conserve wildlife for future generations, and that “ensuring that native species are not only successfully reintroduced but also thrive in their native habitats is a critical part of that mission.”
“We all share the same goal with this program, which is to achieve recovery and turn management of Mexican wolves over to the states and tribes,” said Amy Lueders, Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Albuquerque.
In January, New Mexico Game & Fish will participate in the annual Mexican wolf year-end population survey, which concludes with an aerial count and capture event. The count is a labor-intensive, multi-step event that the Service, along with tribal and state partners, conducts every year to monitor the progress of Mexican wolf recovery in the Southwest.
In Spring 2020, the department will participate in cross-fostering events. Last year, five Mexican wolf pups were placed into wild dens in Arizona and seven pups were placed into wild dens in New Mexico. Cross-fostering is a proven way to introduce captive-born pups into the litter of an experienced wild female. In 2020, the plan is to cross-foster as many pups as logistically feasible into the wild.
Fish & Game also plans to put staff on the ground to work with local communities and address conflicts across the landscape. Reducing conflict with livestock remains a primary management focus for all cooperators.
“We look forward to working closely with Service to find real tangible ways to mitigate impacts on livestock producers,” Prukop said. “We have to make this program work for everyone.”
The Mexican wolf is the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America. It is listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Once common throughout portions of the southwestern United States and Mexico, it was all but eliminated from the wild by the 1970s.
In November 2017, the Forest Service completed the first revision of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan. The recovery plan uses the best available science to chart a path forward for the Mexican wolf that can be accommodated within the species’ historical range in the Southwestern United States and Mexico. This revised plan provides measurable and objective criteria for successful recovery. If those goals are met, the Service will be able to remove the Mexican wolf from the list of endangered species. The wolf’s management would be turned over to the appropriate states and Native American tribes.
At the end of 2018, surveys counted a minimum of 131 Mexican wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico. In addition, approximately 280 additional wolves are being held in various captive-breeding facilities located throughout the United States and Mexico. By becoming a cooperating agency in the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program, the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish will join the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, White Mountain Apache Tribe, USDA Forest Service, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – Wildlife Services, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. National Park Service and several participating counties in approving and carrying out wolf management activities in the Southwest.