Growth slows for endangered Mexican gray wolf population

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) — There are now more Mexican gray wolves roaming the southwestern United States than at any time since the federal government began reintroducing the endangered species, said Wildlife Managers Wednesday.

Results from the latest annual wolf survey show there are at least 196 in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona – the sixth year in a row that the wolf population has increased.

But US Fish and Wildlife Service officials said population growth in 2021 was tempered by higher-than-average pup mortality. Life has been made more difficult for the wolves due to a persistent drought that has resulted in low rainfall and low snowpack, officials said.

Less than 40% of the young survived until the end of the year, although more breeding pairs were recorded in 2021.

“We are pleased to see that the wild population of Mexican wolves continues to grow year after year,” said Brady McGee, coordinator of the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program. “The service and our partners remain focused on recovery by improving the genetic health of the wild population and reducing threats, while working to minimize conflict with livestock.”

Ranchers continue to worry about livestock being killed by wolves, saying efforts to keep predators away from livestock – by horsemen, non-lethal shots fired from rifles and flags placed on fences near livestock – were not effective enough. Wolf feed caches are also set up by authorities to keep wolves away from livestock.

State Representative Rebecca Dow sent a letter to McGee earlier this month about two separate livestock killings on a pasture lot in her district. The small-town Truth or Consequences Republican said Wednesday she learned ranchers had been forced to camp on their property to protect their herds.

“Herding is a way of life in our district and releasing these wolves without proper management takes away our community’s right to earn a living,” said Dow, who is seeking the GOP governorship.

Unlike wolf reintroductions to Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere in the northern United States, wildlife managers in the Southwest have to contend with a climate that has encouraged a year-round cattle calving season, which means that wolves can prey on livestock all year round instead of for several months. the year.

The rarest gray wolf subspecies in North America, the Mexican wolf was listed as endangered in the 1970s and a Mexican-American captive breeding program was started with the remaining seven wolves.

It is estimated that thousands of Mexican wolves once roamed from central Mexico to New Mexico, southern Arizona and Texas. Predator eradication programs began in the late 1800s. Within decades, predators were virtually eliminated from the wild.

There are currently about 380 Mexican wolves in more than 60 zoos and other facilities in the two countries. In Mexico, the wild population is about 40, officials said.

The Wolf Recovery Team placed 22 captive-born pups in seven wild dens in 2021 as part of a cross-fostering program aimed at boosting genetic diversity in the population. Officials said two of the puppies have since been captured and collared and the effort to determine how many survived will continue this year.

The team also documented 25 wolf deaths in 2021. Authorities rarely release many details about cases involving illegal shooting.

Conservationists had hoped the US population would top 200 by 2021. They lobbied the Fish and Wildlife Service to release more captive wolf packs and to allow predators to establish new packs in areas beyond the current recovery area in southwestern New Mexico and the southeast. Arizona.

Conservationists have said the southern Rockies and the Grand Canyon area would be suitable habitat for wolves.

“The disappointing lack of meaningful growth is a sign that this recovery paradigm is not working,” Chris Smith of the WildEarth Guardians group said in a statement.

Wolves “need better protection and more space to roam and recover. US Fish and Wildlife continues to flout science and bow to political pressure,” Smith said.

Federal authorities are expected to finalize a new rule this summer that will govern the management of Mexican wolves in the United States.

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