Judge orders poaching protections for endangered Mexican gray wolves

Arizona Daily Sun (Original) Posted on October 21, 2021 and Updated on October 23, 2021 by Mark Richardson for the Arizona News Connection

TUCSON -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has six months to develop new language in its Mexican gray wolf recovery plan, after a judge ruled it does not adequately address the illegal killing of wolves.

The judge's ruling was in response to a lawsuit by conservation groups, including Defenders of Wildlife.

Wildlife officials estimate there are currently only about 180 of the endangered lobos in Arizona and New Mexico. Defenders' Southwest Program Manager Bryan Bird said one of the highest sources of wolf mortality is poaching by humans, and protections are needed for that.

"Poaching is especially nefarious," Bird said. "The person that's killing a wolf illegally doesn't have any idea whether that wolf is important, genetically, to the population in the wild."

The group's 2018 lawsuit claimed that the federal agency's plan failed to meet basic requirements of the Endangered Species Act. Mexican grey wolves became one of the most endangered mammals due to federally sanctioned hunting, trapping and poisoning.

The wolves range from southern Mexico into the Southwest, but the recovery plan specifically covers sections of southeastern Arizona and southwest New Mexico.

According to Bird, the centuries-long coexistence conflict between wolves and humans -- especially over territory and livestock -- has nearly led to their extinction.

"You're never supposed to shoot a wolf unless you're under extreme threat for personal safety or property," said Bird. "And when you lose a wolf to poaching, it's very likely it could be highly valuable from a genetic perspective."

Bird said genetic diversity has decreased dramatically among the Mexican gray population and a proper recovery plan is needed to save the wolves from extinction.

Officials say 105 gray wolves are known to have been poached, or killed unlawfully, between 1998 and 2019 following their reintroduction. Bird said they need better protection.

"Whether that's increased law enforcement, or increased education of the public," Bird said. "They have to put those in their recovery plan, explicitly."

Other plaintiffs include the Center for Biological Diversity, Endangered Wolf Center, Wolf Conservation Center and David Parsons - former Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.