Wolves still struggle in the Southwest

  • Wolf

    Tom Smylie, USFWS
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

The effort to restore Mexican gray wolves to the Southwest started later and smaller than the restoration of wolves to the Northern Rockies, and it has run into stiffer local resistance.

But "we're on track," says Colleen Buchanan, assistant Mexican wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We remain quite hopeful.

"They're just trying to put a happy face on things," counters Michael Robinson, who tracks the effort for the Center for Biological Diversity from his base in Silver City, N.M.

The main difference between the Northern Rockies and the Southwest is the wolves. The Mexican wolves (not a different species, merely a variety of gray wolf) reintroduced to Arizona and New Mexico are all produced by a captive breeding program. They've never taken wild prey until they're released to the wild.

"They're naive," Buchanan says. "They don't hit the ground running."

Mexican gray wolves had been wiped out in the U.S. by the time they were protected with their own slot on the Endangered Species list in 1976. The feds had to hire a trapper to collect five in Mexico to begin the breeding program. Due to political wrangling, the reintroduction effort didn't begin until 1998, and it immediately ran into trouble. Thirteen wolves were released that year, but one of the alpha females was shot and another disappeared.

Only three of those bred successfully, so four more from zoos or animal parks were included to broaden the genetic lines.

Descended from the original seven, today there are about 200 Mexican wolves in 43 captive breeding facilities around the U.S. and Mexico.

In all, 65 Mexican wolves have been released. Among those, there have been 26 verified deaths: 10 shot; four hit by vehicles; one killed by a mountain lion; one, bitten by a rattlesnake, choked to death on its collar as its neck swelled; and the rest dead from diseases, dehydration or complications from handling.

Today, roughly 30 to 35 survive in the wild in seven packs. Only a few are in New Mexico, because the local opposition is stiffest there, and the feds agreed to more restrictions on how wolves are released there.

The "recovery area" defined by the feds is basically the Apache National Forest in southeast Arizona and the Gila National Forest in southwest New Mexico - a total of about 7,000 square miles with ample wilderness and prey.

Ranchers in southwest New Mexico, including Catron County, have been among the most determined nationwide to resist anything federal. Reflecting that stance, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish still officially opposes the wolf recovery (though the department does quietly dedicate a staffer to the wolves).

In Arizona, the politics are more mixed. Recently the White Mountain Apache tribe has taken a leadership role. A male wolf and a female wolf have staked out territory on the 1.6-million acre reservation, and "we're hoping for pups this year," says Cynthia Dale, the tribe's sensitive species coordinator.

The tribe has written a wolf management plan, hired a wolf biologist, and, in March, secured $500,000 in federal funding to help support the next five years of tribal wolf management. "There's a lot less conflict here than on U.S. Forest Service land," says Dale.

Another problem is that to appease the opposition, the USFWS decided at the beginning to allow the wolves in the Southwest to roam only within the official recovery area. When wolves roam outside the boundaries, they're recaptured and hauled back.

"We made a mistake by putting that line on a map," admits Brian Kelly, who runs the Southwest effort. But Kelly says the rancher opposition and the restrictions seem minor next to the challenges the wolves face adapting to the wild. Compared to efforts to reintroduce captive-bred red wolves in North Carolina and captive-bred swift foxes in Canada, "we're doing better," he says.

The Mexican wolves are used to being fed by people, but in the wild most "have definitely shown they can make the transition," says Colleen Buchanan. The ones that survive "are elusive, they're taking down prey, behaving exactly as a wild wolf would."

Copyright © 2002 HCN and Tim Vanderpool

High Country News Classifieds
  • POLICY DIRECTOR - FRIENDS OF THE INYO
    Seeking Policy Director to lead our policy programs to ensure the health/vibrancy of CA's Inyo/Mono Co. public lands. FT or PT. Remote OK but frequent...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Friends of the San Juans (Friends), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is seeking an experienced, passionate, and charismatic environmental leader to continue its strong community leadership...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, ARIZONA CHAPTER
    What We Can Achieve Together: Arizona's Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure...
  • CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Capacity Building Program Manager works directly with the business unit's Arizona Healthy Cities Program Director to advance the Healthy...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND OFFICE MANAGER - FRIENDS OF THE INYO
    Friends of the Inyo - Donor database management & reporting, IT/HR, and office administrative support. PT or FT. Partly remote OK but some in-office time...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    New Mexico Land Conservancy is seeking a qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating,...
  • GRAPHIC AND DIGITAL DESIGNER
    Application deadline: December 17, 2022 Expected start date: January 16, 2023 Location: Amazon Watch headquarters in Oakland, CA Amazon Watch is a dynamic nonprofit organization...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eugene, Ore. nonprofit Long Tom Watershed Council is seeking a highly collaborative individual to lead a talented, dedicated team of professionals. Full-time: $77,000 - $90,000...
  • GIS SPECIALIST
    What We Can Achieve Together: The GIS Specialist provides technical and scientific support for Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, data management, and visualization internally and...
  • LOWER SAN PEDRO PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Lower San Pedro Program Manager directs some or all aspects of protection, science, stewardship and community relations for the...
  • FOREST RESTORATION SPATIAL DATA MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Forest Restoration Spatial Data Manager fills an integral role in leading the design and development of, as well as...
  • WATER PROJECTS MANAGER, SOUTHERN AZ
    What We Can Achieve Together: Working hybrid in Tucson, AZ or remote from Sierra Vista, AZ or other southern Arizona locations, the Water Projects Manager,...
  • SENIOR STAFF THERAPIST/PSYCHOLOGIST: NATIVE AMERICAN STUDENT SPECIALIST
    Counseling Services is a department strategically integrated with Health Services within the Division of Student Services and Enrollment Management. Our Mission at the Counseling Center...
  • THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IS HIRING A LOCAL INITIATIVES COORDINATOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks a Local Initiatives Coordinator to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator to develop, manage and advance...
  • LAND AND WATER PROTECTION MANAGER - NORTHERN ARIZONA
    We're Looking for You: Are you looking for a career to help people and nature? Guided by science, TNC creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our...
  • SENIOR CLIMATE CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) seeks a Senior Climate Conservation Associate (SCCA) to play a key role in major campaigns to protect the lands, waters,...
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • STRAWBALE HOME BESIDE MONTEZUMA WELL NAT'L MONUMENT
    Straw Bale Home beside Montezuma Well National Monument. Our property looks out at Arizona fabled Mogollon Rim and is a short walk to perennial Beaver...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.