By Mary Katherine Ray/Chapter Wildlife chair
In a staggering blow, five Mexican wolves were found dead in November. The causes of death have not yet been released for these apparent separate incidents.
This brings the total loss for the year to 17, more than any year since reintroduction began in 1998 and a significant toll for this population that last year numbered only 114. We have been told that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working to understand and stop these losses. Not all will have been caused by malicious humans, but the population cannot withstand this level of mortality and be sustained.
During the year, a total of eight wolf pups were cross-fostered from captive to wild dens. At least one is known to be alive, but hopefully the annual count will turn up more. Cross-fostering helps to increase the genetic diversity of the wild wolf population, which has become dangerously inbred because wolves in the small wild population are so closely related to one another. Wolf pairs will also have had their own pups as well and we fervently hope that there will be survivors among them.
Gov. Susana Martinez’s Game Commission has approved the cross-fostering of up to a dozen wolf pups into wild dens this coming spring. Cross-fostering pups requires that the wild recipients have their own litter within days of the birth of the captive litter. This narrow window is why the goal of 12 cross-fosters is difficult to meet. Allowing an entire captive family with parents and pups to be released into the wild would greatly boost the wolf population much more quickly, but so far, even as the wolf numbers fall further and further behind the goals in the recovery plan, the Game and Fish agencies of both Arizona and New Mexico have refused to allow adult wolves to be released from captivity into the wild. Yet we are ever more certain that Nature needs wolves and that it is essential for the wrong of their extirpation to be set right.
But two wolves killed illegally in previous years get justice: In 2015, a young male Mexican wolf was deliberately trapped and bludgeoned to death with a shovel by public-land livestock permittee, Craig Thiessen. We learned of this incident when the Fish and Wildlife Service put out a press release reporting his guilty plea and sentence of a small fine and probation.
However, Forest Service grazing rules allow the agency to revoke the grazing permit when the permittee is convicted of failing to comply with federal wildlife-protection laws such as, in this case, the Endangered Species Act. Thirty-three organizations (including your Rio Grande Sierra Club chapter) and 20 individuals signed a letter to the Gila National Forest calling for Thiessen’s grazing permit to be cancelled. Thank you to all of you who were among the senders of hundreds of emails and phone calls urging this action. In late November, the Forest Service agreed this action was warranted and served notice to rancher Thiessen that it was cancelling his grazing permit.
An Arizona man, Donald Davis, has pled guilty to knowingly shooting a female Mexican wolf while on a hunting trip in December 2017. Another hunter saw cell-phone pictures of Davis posing with the dead wolf and reported the incident to an Arizona Game and Fish officer. Davis was ordered to pay a $7,500 fine, to surrender his rifle (worth around $400), and sentenced to five years probation, during which he may not hunt at all nor enter any Arizona National Forest except to pass through on a federal, state or local highway.
Another man also involved in the shooting will have a court hearing later in December.
Both of these cases send the important message that wolves have value and that intentionally harming one has consequences that can be significant.