‘Lobo’ Gravely Endangered by Inadequate Recovery Effort
SILVER CITY, N.M.— The U.S. population of critically endangered Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and Arizona increased by just one animal — from 113 to 114 —during 2017, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service census announced today.
Those numbers include 51 wolves in New Mexico and 63 in Arizona. Appointees to a federal Mexican wolf recovery team estimated the population needs to reach 750 individuals to no longer be at risk of extinction.
“This stagnation in numbers is troubling because the Mexican gray wolf faces so many challenges to recovery that every individual’s survival counts,” said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is a warning bell that the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to release more captive animals to increase the health of the wild population.”
The Center and other conservation groups sued the Service in January because the newly finalized Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan is not supported by solid science. The plan calls for releasing an insufficient number of captive wolves to ensure genetic diversity and population growth in the wild. It sets a population recovery goal of only 320 wolves, less than half of what biologists estimate is necessary for recovery. Under the plan, wildlife officials would release only 70 wolves over 35 years, although they expect only 22 would survive to breeding age. Fewer than 22 are expected to reproduce.
The Service began reintroducing Mexican wolves to the wild in 1998 after being sued by the Center and allies, but officials seldom actually release the animals from captivity. The Service planned to release two family packs during 2017, but actually released just four pups and did not release either of the two packs.
Releasing new wolves is imperative. Because of mismanagement of wild Mexican gray wolves, the captive population of 281 animals in 55 facilities retains much more genetic diversity. In the wild, almost every wolf is related to every other as if they were full siblings.
Since 2014, when there were just 110 wolves, the population has barely risen. That year was the first time the population topped 100 animals, an objective the Service predicted would be reached by 2006. The new, controversial recovery plan for the first time establishes actual target numbers of wolves as a goal for recovery: 320 in the U.S. Southwest and 200 in Mexico.
In contrast, the Service’s own Mexican Wolf Recovery Team — which was sidelined in the recovery plan’s development — calculated that at least 750 wolves would need to live in three interconnected populations before the Mexican wolf could be taken off the endangered species list. That team, which includes highly regarded independent scientists, determined habitat in Mexico would not support many wolves and that new populations should be established near the Grand Canyon and in the southern Rocky Mountains.
There are 37 wolves living in the wild in Mexico. They stem from a reintroduction program begun in 2011.