Mexican gray wolf population bounces back in Southwest

PHOENIX — Endangered Mexican gray wolves rebounded from a deadly 2015 to reach a population of 113 in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico last year, the most since the species returned to the wild almost 20 years ago, federal and state biologists announced Friday.

The population of wolves, first reintroduced from captive breeding into the two states in 1998, had grown by fits and starts to 110 two years ago before dropping back to 97 at the end of 2015. Unsolved illegal shootings contributed to the losses, and officials said that year also saw lower pup survival.

Last year was different, according to winter ground and aerial surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partner wildlife agencies in the two states. Fifty wild-born pups survived the year, compared with just 23 in 2015.

At least 63 wolves roamed the forests of eastern Arizona as of January, the agencies reported.

“We are encouraged by these numbers, but these 2016 results demonstrate we are still not out of the woods with this experimental population,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle said in a news release.

The year’s positive numbers didn’t sway wolf advocates, who say the population needs a major infusion of new blood with new releases of captive wolves.

Arizona has favored placing captive-born pups with wild packs in the state lately, instead of releasing pairs to form new packs. The tactic remains risky, Robinson said, as the annual census shows only three of six wolves fostered in this manner apparently survived last year.

New Mexico, meanwhile, has secured a court injunction barring new releases into that state for the time being.

Both states face pressure from ranchers and deer and elk hunters to limit potential wolf predations.

“New Mexico is paving a path that could lead to Mexican gray wolf extinction,” said Bryan Bird, Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “Releases are crucial to increase lobo numbers and improve their genetic diversity in the wild.

“We need more wolves and less politics.”

Arizona expects the survival of wild-born pups to help sustain last year’s growth rate, said Jim deVos, assistant director of wildlife management for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The Mexican wolf is the rarest of gray wolf subspecies and is somewhat smaller than its northern cousins. It was hunted into near extinction with U.S. government help in the past century before a captive breeding program began with the last seven survivors in the 1970s.

Mexico also has re-established a small population.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has long struggled to produce a recovery plan that would lay out a population goal and the means to get there, but it is due to release one this fall.

5 thoughts on “Mexican gray wolf population bounces back in Southwest

  1. It’s sad to say that it’s always going to be a precarious situation for wolves. I would never take anything for granted when it comes to their protection, it would be naïve. While this is good news, we should remember that some of the most virulent wolf haters are from this area, and the ‘unsolved illegal shootings’ should not be minimized.

  2. And the headline is misleading – it’s hardly ‘bouncing back’. More like a guarded optimism, accent on the guarded. I read an article awhile ago about ‘naming wolves’, which said ‘when they recover, we won’t need to do that anymore’. I can’t imagine when that will ever be, because their recovery will always be ‘managed’ and monitored, and a wolf will always be cause for novelty or hysteria by humans.

  3. When I saw this headline, I thought “are they crazy?” No, the wolf program, manipulated by wolf-killer Leopold’s antiquated “game management” ideology, is making it impossible for a viable wolf population to exist in these times, certainly not in NM:
    “New Mexico, meanwhile, has secured a court injunction barring new releases into that state for the time being…..Both states face pressure from ranchers and deer and elk hunters to limit potential wolf predation.”

    Parsons and his friends were major players in the inclusion of infamous “Wildlife Services” (aka, “Animal Damage Control” into this program—what a travesty, and tragedy. Some of us have had brief conversations with Parsons, but I doubt he’ll change.
    Wolf “Expert” David Mech ” is an avid fur trapper and is not anti fishing, anti-hunting, or anti-trapping, which brings criticism from animal protectionists. He believes that states can manage wolves in a “sustainable” manner, and that states where the wolf is no longer on the endangered list should determine how wolves should be managed in their state”–from wikipedia.

    If livestock grazers’ permits are removed from the Gila, and hunting restricted in the area, wolves can survive. Large fires have decimated whole mountains, but the area still has many remote places for them. They just need to be left alone. Many of us have told these yahoos Not to radio collar the wolves. The hunters and ranchers can trace them, as well as the so-called “biologists.”

    Now, with the Big Livestock and Hunting securely in the WH (worse than before), we are not hopeful that the wolves will survive more vigorous assaults, especially with the anti-EPA maniac now in charge. The ranchers down in the Gila area are white supremacist/Trump,supporters and they now are more emboldened than ever.

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