Feds look to next chapter for controversial gray wolves

The Arizona Republic (Original) Posted April 15, 2020 by Debra Utacia Krol

After nearing extinction, a controversial reintroduction to the wild and a string of shootings, controversies and lawsuits, the Mexican gray wolf awaits the next chapter of its story.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a call for public input on April 14 as part of rewriting the rules that define how the predator is managed in the wild.

The previous rule was enacted in 2015, but environmentalists sued, saying it was insufficient to grow the animal's population, and in 2018 a judge ordered a revamp.

The revised rule must be completed by May 17, 2021.

The management rule governs how Fish and Wildlife service oversees how wolves are released into the wild — and how they are removed.

The Mexican wolf was placed on the Endangered Species List in 1976 after being exterminated to the brink of extinction. The last seven gray wolves were captured, and a captive breeding program initiated. Currently, about 300 gray wolves live in captivity in addition to 163 canids living in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico.

Wildlife officials announced that the Mexican wolf population grew 24% in 2019. However, two wolves were found dead under suspicious circumstances near Pinetop in March; a wolf pup was found dead near Alpine, most likely due to being struck by a vehicle; and three gray wolves were found dead in New Mexico in March.

Jim deVos, assistant director of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, a partner in the gray wolf's Interagency Field Team, which coordinates the recovery effort, said the call for public input reflects the effort to making the best science available in rewriting the rule. “Part of that process is the public’s comments,” he said. “Arizona and New Mexico’s game and fish departments, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and other agencies worked diligently to address the court remand, and we’re looking forward to reviewing the process.”

DeVos added that some wolf deaths could be attributed to people mistaking the wolves for coyotes. Arizona Game and Fish has been engaged in a campaign to raise public awareness of the difference between the two canid species, he said, in an effort to reduce accidental shootings of Mexican wolves.

Environmentalists were encouraged to see movement toward a new rule.

“For too long, recovery of the Mexican gray wolf has been mismanaged and guided by political pressure instead of sound science,” said Bryan Bird, Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife, in a statement. “This marks the start of a public comment period that we hope will lead to a management rule for these endangered wolves that expands the area they can roam northward and limits the circumstances for removal from the wild.”

Michael Robinson, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the court ruling reflected the failure of management with bullets and traps. “Fish and Wildlife has authorized many circumstances where wolves can be killed,” he said.

Also, Robinson said, the current rule doesn’t address what he and other environmentalists feel is one of the biggest factors that will determine if the Mexican wolf lives or dies in the wild – genetic diversity. Wildlife agencies have not released any adult wolves into the wild in recent years, opting instead to cross-foster pups. That’s where newborn wolf pups from captive litters into wild dens to be raised wild. “Cross-fostering pups hasn’t increased diversity,” he said. “Fish and Wildlife and Arizona Game and Fish have not conducted any quantitative analysis to show that released adult wolves engage in nuisance behaviors; in fact, they don’t even define what a nuisance is.”

To submit comments, which are due by June 15, 2020, visit this site.

Reach the reporter at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 602-444-8490. Follow her on Twitter at @debkrol.

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