If we want Mexican gray wolves to recover, we need them north of the Grand Canyon

The Arizona Republic (Original) Posted April 9, 2020 by Craig Miller, opinion contributor

Opinion: If states want a self-sustaining, ecologically meaningful population of Mexican gray wolves, there are two major efforts they'll need to support.

There is good news coming from the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program: The wolf population in Arizona and New Mexico grew by 24% over the last year. The population count shows a total of 163 wolves in Arizona and New Mexico in 2019, with 42 packs throughout the two states.

This growth is largely due to a devoted partnership between the states, the federal government, the White Mountain and San Carlos Apache tribes, non-profit groups, captive management facilities, wolf country ranchers and private citizens who are working together to find solutions to long-standing and often divisive wolf-livestock conflicts.

It’s a testament to hard work and dedication despite some zealous opposition in the region.

That said, the success doesn't mean we're done. Rather, it gives the partnership the momentum and cause to expand efforts.

We're making positive steps but need more

The Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program is a cooperative effort led by the state and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team.

The biologists assigned this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity are highly trained professionals and exceedingly dedicated. If not for these passionate individuals, the program would not be making positive, incremental steps forward.

In addition to state and federal staff on the field team, numerous private individuals helped make a difference, many of whom live and work in the occupied wolf recovery area. These committed individuals include ranchers, interns and members of Native American tribes.

Captive management facilities across the U.S. and Mexico have been collaborating behind the scenes since the mid-1980s to preserve Mexican gray wolves in captivity and to support reintroduction to the wild.

And non-profit organizations, like Defenders of Wildlife, dedicate full-time staff and significant resources to peaceful coexistence between wolves and humans in the Southwest.

1. Create 2 more healthy populations

Yet more must be done before the wolves reach a self-sustaining and ecologically meaningful population in the United States.

The Fish and Wildlife Service must recognize the best available science demonstrating that at least two additional populations will need to be established before recovery of the wolf in the region can begin:

  • north of the Grand Canyon;
  • and in the southwestern Rocky Mountains of Colorado and New Mexico.

The wolf management rule, which is currently under court-ordered revision, will need to reflect this goal.

Anyone who supports the recovery of the wolf should write the Fish and Wildlife Service at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and request these commonsense changes. This may be the last opportunity to create a program for real success.

The Wildlife Service will have to recognize the need to raise current population targets and to limit the circumstances in which wolves may be removed from the wild for perceived nuisance behavior.

2. Release adult pairs from captivity

Finally, Arizona and New Mexico must step up and encourage the Fish and Wildlife Service to release well-bonded, adult pairs from captivity.

These pairs can introduce much needed genetic material that provides a good chance at successful reproduction.

Within the binational captive breeding program managed through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan, there are about 300 to 350 Mexican gray wolves held in more than 50 partner institutions throughout the U.S. and Mexico. These wolves are bred in accordance with the Species Survival Plan to retain critical genetic diversity and provide animals for release to the wild.

If the states would like to see successful recovery of the Mexican gray wolf, as they have stated, then they must reverse their resistance to these releases and begin planning cooperative actions in partnership with the Fish and Wildlife Service now, while there is still time to save this struggling wild population.

In the meantime, all the partners working on the ground and behind the scenes for recovery will continue with total commitment. Their efforts deserve the support, funding and responsible decision-making necessary to ensure success.

It’s not easy, but we have a moral obligation to safeguard this magnificent animal’s survival.

Craig Miller is a senior Southwest representative for the Tucson-based Defenders of Wildlife and has led the organization’s regional wolf and jaguar conservation programs since 1993. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..