Bloodiest Week in Southwestern Wolf Mismanagement Since 2006
SILVER CITY, N.M.— In three memos written between March 3 and March 24, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service surreptitiously authorized the killing of four endangered Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico on behalf of the livestock industry. In response the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program killed one wolf on March 23 and three more on March 28.
The quick-succession shootings of two members of the Prieto pack and two from the Mangas pack make this the bloodiest bout of federal wolf-killing in the Southwest since 2006, when an entire nine-member wolf family in Arizona was taken out.
“This killing spree shows us how little has changed in the mindset of wolf managers since the days of federal wolf extermination a century ago,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Fish and Wildlife Service would rather shoot wolves than require ranchers to protect their animals on public lands. And sickeningly, some stockowners seem to look at losing cattle, and collecting reimbursements for those deaths, as worthwhile if it results in wolf killings that undermine Mexican gray wolves’ precarious recovery.”
“The Wolf Conservation Center has committed nearly 20 years of resources to Mexican gray wolf recovery in partnership with USFWS,” said Maggie Howell, executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center. “That our partners are open to delivering this unnecessary blow to lobo recovery is beyond disappointing. Given the species’ precarious status, killing should never be a management tool.”
“This is a sad day for Mexican wolves, particularly as these endangered animals are being killed at the behest of the agency charged with recovering them,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director, Sierra Club – Grand Canyon Chapter. “We must insist that the agency abide by its responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act and focus on the welfare of these animals, not a few narrow special interests.”
The Mangas pack lives near the state line with Arizona, while the Prieto pack lives several dozen miles to the southeast. Both are in so-called “problem allotments” where chronically poor livestock management has resulted in previous removals of wolves.
For example, the Prieto pack occupies a heavily grazed area called Rainy Mesa that has a previous history of wolves scavenging on the carcasses of cattle they did not kill — cattle that died of non-wolf causes — and of the wolves subsequently preying on live cattle. The Prieto pack only began preying on livestock after several members of the pack had been trapped and injured or killed by non-governmental trappers.
“It is absurd that the onus for coexistence is placed on these endangered, native wolves rather than on subsidized public-lands ranchers who have introduced cattle where they don’t belong,” said Chris Smith of WildEarth Guardians. “A subset of ranchers who would rather have native species killed than improve their livestock management is literally calling the shots for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
Scientists have long recommended that ranchers be required to clean up or render inedible (i.e. by applying lime) the carcasses of cows that die on their watch in order to prevent wolves from being drawn to the proximity of vulnerable livestock. Yet the Fish and Wildlife Service opposes making such measures mandatory to prevent predation on stock.
“Ranchers are allowed to graze their private livestock on public lands with so little accountability,” said Kirk Robinson of Western Wildlife Conservancy. “The wolves are the scapegoats, and lamentably, it puts their recovery at risk.”
“Killing critically endangered Mexican gray wolves has never been a credible recovery strategy, and today we dishearteningly learn that the USFWS will fall right back into it, despite years of collaborative science, education, and cooperative stewardship efforts to mitigate and prevent livestock losses,” said Kelly Burke, executive director of Wild Arizona. “Let’s get back on track and truly recover the lobo through meaningful science-based actions.”
The Mexican gray wolf is the southernmost subspecies of gray wolf in North America, and the most endangered. Federal employees have shot and killed 20 wolves since reintroduction began in 1998, and an additional 22 wolves have died inadvertently as a result of capture operations.
The 2017 Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan calls for reducing the numbers of wolves removed by the federal government but does not impose any limits to actually restrict killings like the ones that occurred in March.
In 1917 the predecessor agency of today’s Fish and Wildlife Service began trapping and poisoning wolves in the Southwest on behalf of the livestock industry. Almost all resident wolves were eliminated by the late 1920s, and wolves crossing the border from Mexico were quickly killed. In 1950 the Service began sending its experienced wolf poisoners to Mexico, along with government-produced poisons, as agricultural foreign aid.
After the 1973 passage of the Endangered Species Act, five wolves were captured alive in Mexico, and three of them were successfully bred. Descendants of those three were later bred with descendants of four other wolves captured in the 1950s and 1960s, and the descendants of those seven founders were reintroduced into New Mexico and Arizona in 1998. At last count 163 wild wolves live in Arizona and New Mexico, and approximately 30 live wild in Mexico, where reintroduction began in 2011.