SILVER CITY, N.M.— For the fifth year in a row the number of endangered Mexican gray wolves has increased. There are now 109 individuals, including 53 in New Mexico and 56 in Arizona, compared to 83 a year ago, 80 in 2013, and 67 at the beginning of 2012. The number of breeding pairs also increased to 14, although only eight of these pairs met the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s definitional requirement of producing two pups that survive until the end of the year.
“Finally spared from widespread persecution, Mexican wolves are starting to back away from the cliff-edge of extinction,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “But they remain a long way from recovery. Scientists have determined that a minimum of 750 wolves in three populations is needed to ensure the lobo’s long-term survival.”
Mexican gray wolves were first reintroduced into the wild in 1998 and were projected to reach 102 wolves with 18 breeding pairs by 2006. The Fish and Wildlife Service has now reached the interim objective of 100 wolves, albeit eight years late, though the population still falls short on the number of breeding pairs.
In November 2014 the Center and allies sued the Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to complete a recovery plan for the wolves. As documented in a recent report by the Center, the agency has thrice formed recovery teams only to pull the plug before they completed a plan. The most recent plan was scrapped in 2012, but a widely leaked draft revealed that the team had determined the need for establishing populations in the Grand Canyon and southern Rockies of New Mexico, with a minimum of 750 wolves split between the three populations.
“Today is a good day for Mexican gray wolves,” said Robinson. “But we’re going to keep fighting for an expanded recovery program that follows the science and doesn’t short-change these magnificent animals.”
The Center and allies also filed suit last month over a new rule guiding management of Mexican gray wolves that limits their recovery to south of Interstate 40 and to fewer than 325 wolves, both limits standing in direct contravention of what scientists have determined is necessary for recovery.
The ongoing population increase reflects the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sparing more wolves from removal or destruction, and instead working to prevent livestock depredations — moral and practical progress that began after the Center and allied conservation organizations filed suit against the agency in 2008 to stop federal shootings and trapping that were leading to repeated downturns in wolf numbers.
In 2014 just one wolf, the alpha female from the Paradise pack in Arizona, was trapped and taken into captivity as a result of depredations. In addition, in 2014, nine wild wolves died, including one from cancer; if past is prelude, most or all of the remaining eight mortalities will eventually be attributed to illegal shootings.
Adverse provisions that reduce the legal and on-the-ground protections accorded the wolves detract from the new management rule’s science-based provisions to allow releases in the Gila National Forest and to allow wolves significantly more room to roam. One such provision incorporated due to political pressure by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the livestock industry requires the capture or destruction of these rare animals should their numbers continue to increase to more than 325 in the two states — regardless of the genetic importance of any doomed wolves.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.