Get The Facts:
The Mexican gray wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf, is teetering on the brink of extinction in the southwestern U.S. They once numbered in the thousands, but this subspecies of gray wolf was nearly wiped out through excessive predator removal by government agencies and ranchers by the mid-1970s. In 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) began a repopulation effort with 11 Mexican gray wolves in Arizona. In 2013, FWS proposed to expand the range of these imperiled wolves throughout the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in the Apache and Gila National Forests of east central Arizona and west central New Mexico. There are currently about 83 in the wild, and they remain the most endangered subspecies of wolf in the world.
Mexican gray wolves are a crucial part of the southwestern ecosystems. As apex predators at the top of the food chain, they keep the populations of prey species in check. The presence of a predator prevents their populations from growing so numerous that they overgraze and destroy habitat that is home to countless other species. Their range once stretched from central Mexico throughout the southwestern U.S. Today, the Mexican wolf has been reintroduced to the Apache National Forest in southeastern Arizona, and may move into the adjacent Gila National Forest in western New Mexico as the population expands. Recently, Mexican wolves have also begun to be reintroduced in Mexico.
There has been recent concern by ranchers, farmers, and other citizens in this region that the reintroduction of wolves will be dangerous for livestock and public safety. However, Defenders of Wildlife has already established a compensation fund for ranchers who lose livestock to wolves. Additionally, wolves do not naturally pose a threat to people. According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, “The majority of wolf attacks that have occurred resulted from situations involving rabid wolves; wolves habituated to humans (such as being fed by humans at campgrounds or near settlements); or provoked wolves (wolves that were beaten or attempted to be killed) and the attacks were attempts by the wolves to get away.” Wolves do not pose an inherent threat to people or to livestock.
After many years of hard work, time, and money spent to resurrect this wolf population, proposing reactionary management techniques (such as hunting and trapping) would be a conservation failure. Conflict between ranchers and wildlife is an issue that needs to be handled in a proactive and sustainable manner – and the survival of Mexican gray wolves depends on it.
Update (July 2014): FWS published a revised proposed rule for Mexican gray wolf conservation. Fortunately, they want to release captive-bred wolves over a much broader region – including new areas of New Mexico and parts of Arizona. Unfortunately, the new proposed rule also authorizes their slaughter under broader circumstances. Ranchers would have more leeway to kill wolves, even ones that have not posed any threat. State agencies would also be able to kill, capture or relocate wolves that have "an unacceptable impact" on deer, elk or other game populations. These are the very agencies that receive much of their funding from selling hunting licenses, which sets up a clear conflict of interest.
The comment period for this proposal is open until September 23rd, 2014. Click here to submit a comment in support of the wolves (and you can find a sample comment here).
For more information about another imperiled subspecies, the Alexander Archipelago wolf, click here.