Mexican wolves still threatened by Gosar bill

Arizona Daily Sun (Original) Special Posted on August 13, 2015 by David Parsons

In his August 6 op-ed, David Wolf presents the "facts" about Mexican wolf recovery. Alas, one person's facts are often another's fiction. I don't know Mr. Wolf's credentials. I have a Master of Science degree in wildlife biology and served as Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1990-1999. I have followed the recovery program ever since, and am a member of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Team.

Mr. Wolf claims wild Mexican wolves' "survival and reproductive potential has increased many fold over the pen-raised wolves the program started with in 1998." This claim has not been proven, but we do know that the wild population is highly inbred and that without new releases of captive wolves, each new wild generation becomes increasingly inbred. Currently, wild Mexican wolves are on average as related as brothers and sisters. Important genetically diverse Mexican wolves are available in captivity, but new releases have been restricted for many years by the Arizona Game Commission, which at its last meeting prohibited the additional releases of captive adult wolves and allowed only six captive-born pups to be released annually by placing them with wild litters in their dens—a tricky experimental technique called "cross fostering." So far, there has been one placement of two pups in a den and one surviving pup has been confirmed. There is no scientific foundation for the Commission's edict.

Mr. Wolf is correct that the "core" of historical Mexican wolf habitat is in Mexico. However, habitats with the highest potential for recovering Mexican wolves are in the United States. Scientists (some from Mexico) appointed by the Fish and Wildlife Service to the Mexican Wolf Recovery Team concluded that additional habitats in northern Arizona / southern Utah and northern New Mexico / southern Colorado are essential to recovery and long-term survival of Mexican wolves.

Mr. Wolf asserts that Arizona Game and Fish Department "is more than capable of and will see the program to a successful conclusion." The department assumed authority over management decisions for the wild population from 2003 to 2009. The wild population exactly matched projections at 55 wolves in 2003. Six years later, it declined to 42 wolves, which led to a federal court settlement that returned management authority to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Two years later, the population was back to the 2003 level. Eight years of the 17-year reintroduction effort were wasted and important genetic diversity squandered under state control.

If Representative Gosar succeeds in taking Mexican wolves off of the Federal endangered species list, their extinction would be likely.

David Parsons is a retired wildlife biologist who lives in New Mexico.