What is an endangered wolf worth? 

By Mary Katherine Ray, Chapter Wildlife chair

In May, the Department of Justice put out a press release revealing that public-land rancher Craig Thiessen had pleaded guilty to trapping and killing an endangered Mexican wolf with a shovel.

The incident took place in 2015 in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest. Thiessen was sentenced to pay a meager fine of $2,300 and sentenced to a year’s probation.

The crime happened on public land that Thiessen leases to graze his cattle. The penalty for this brutal act on a yearling wolf pup in which so many resources have been invested is so paltry that it is no deterrence at all, especially considering that illegal poaching is one of the major obstacles to wolf recovery.  Forest Service regulations provide that a grazing permit may be revoked if the permittee violates wildlife-protection or other laws. Last month, we asked our members and supporters to contact the Gila National Forest Supervisor and urge that Thiessen lose his grazing privileges for such a horrific act. Nearly a thousand of you responded to the call and did just that!

The Forest supervisor has made a statement that they are reviewing the case. If the Forest Service does decide to revoke the permit, Thiessen has the right to appeal the decision. There is no deadline for any decision. Regardless of the outcome, thank you to everyone who responded for elevating the awareness of this problem.

Eight is not enough

In other wolf news, eight wolf pups were cross-fostered from captive litters into wild ones this past spring. In late April, two pups were placed into a wild den in Arizona and two into a wild den in New Mexico. In May, four more were placed with another New Mexico pack. The purpose is to increase the genetic diversity of the wild population. By translocating very young pups, the hope is their wild families will teach them what they need to know about avoiding humans.

But eight is not enough. The wolf-recovery plan approved last year calls for the cross fostering of 12 wolf pups for this year and every year for the next 15 years. In order to work, a wild litter must be born within a week’s time of the captive litter so the pups are the same age. The window of opportunity is very narrow and, because wolves are born in spring, it is over for this year.  Thus, the recovery plan in its first year is already behind schedule.

The Fish and Wildlife Service could alleviate the genetic bottleneck by releasing an entire pack of well-bonded wolf parents and their pups. But so far, the political maneuverings of wolf opponents, including state wildlife agencies, have prevented this.

As with so many issues surrounding wildlife conservation, habitat protection and even the larger health of the entire planet, the outcome of elections makes such a difference. One of the most important actions you can take this year to help the environment and our wildlife is to vote this November.

What is an endangered wolf worth?