SANTA FE — More than 250 people gathered at the state capitol Wednesday to protest roadblocks Gov. Susana Martinez has erected to saving endangered Mexican gray wolves from extinction. The boisterous crowd called on the governor to allow wolf releases from captivity into the wild to address the lack of unrelated mates.
Under Martinez, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in May and obtained an injunction barring the federal agency from releasing wolves into the wild in the state. The federal government and conservation organizations have appealed that injunction, but while the appeal is being decided the Mexican wolf’s genetic plight is worsening.
“Mexican wolves don’t have the luxury of more time,” said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that organized today’s protest. “Gov. Martinez should reconsider whether she wants the extinction of the Mexican wolf to be part of her legacy.”
At last count, one year ago, the wolf population in southwestern New Mexico and eastern Arizona included just six breeding pairs. Results from a new count are expected this week.
“The genetic problems our wild wolves are experiencing could be solved by more releases,” said Maya Rommwatt of Lobos of the Southwest, which maintains the informational website mexicanwolves.org. “A majority of Gov. Martinez’s constituents want the wolf recovery program to succeed.”
Because of a paucity of previous releases, as well as federal trapping and shooting of wolves on behalf of the livestock industry — including two wolves trapped last week in Arizona — each wolf in the population is related to every other wolf as if they were siblings. The inbreeding is resulting in smaller litters and pups that die before they mature.
If this population is to survive, and the Mexican wolf as a subspecies to eventually recover, unrelated wolves from captive-breeding facilities must be released into the wild.
Scientists have been urging as far back as 2001 that the pace of wolf releases increase significantly, at first to prevent and now to ameliorate inbreeding. The reintroduction program began in 1998, and in three years the Clinton administration released 50 wolves from captive-breeding facilities. The Bush administration released 42 wolves, while the Obama administration, despite the wolves’ worsening genetics, released just 10 individuals, the majority of which are now dead or back in captivity.
In 2015, after conducting public hearings overflowing with wolf supporters, the Fish and Wildlife Service gave itself the authority to release captive-bred wolves into the Gila National Forest, but Gov. Martinez’s injunction has temporarily invalidated that authority.