By Mary Katherine Ray, Chapter Wildlife chair
Mexican wolves, the most imperiled canine species in the world, have made progress in the last three months but have also suffered setbacks. In May, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that a record 20 pups were cross-fostered from captive wolves into wild dens. FWS has been using this practice to insert profoundly needed genes from the captive population into the wild. Cross-fostering requires that pups from captivity be within days of the same age as pups in the wild, which means that wolf managers have to move quickly. The genetic bottleneck of the wild population is one of the largest looming threats to wolf recovery.
Sadly, for the first time, one of the exchanges went horribly wrong. Two wild pups were removed and transferred to a captive den to make room for the captive pups in the wild den. The captive wolf parents killed the wild-born pups along with their own remaining two pups. The cause for this unprecedented response is unknown and unexplained.
An unacceptably high number of wolves have been intentionally killed by the Fish and Wildlife Service itself at the bidding of livestock interests. Since January, five Mexican wolves have been shot by the agency charged with their protection. The wolves were killed for preying on livestock. But their stories are complex and involve pack disruptions from unexplained losses as well as injuries from traps, both those set by the agency and by private trappers. The latest wolf to be intentionally killed was a 3-legged trap amputee who turned to livestock as the easiest prey.
In addition, the agency placed eight wolves into captivity in April and May also because of conflict with livestock.
This has been allowed under the flawed 2015 management rule. U.S. Fish and Wildlife is under court order to rewrite this rule because of its glaring inadequacies. In good news, the agency received over 40,000 comments about what should be included in the rewrite to fix the problems.
Declaring the wild population to be “Essential” under the Endangered Species Act rather than “Non-essential,” as they are now, would make it harder for the government to kill or remove wolves. The Fish and Wildlife Service must produce the new management rule by May 2021 and with it, wolves will get a sorely needed reprieve.
Wildlife Services contracts
Most people are shocked to learn that counties using public money contract with the euphemistically named federal agency Wildlife Services to kill wildlife at the behest of private interests. After two years of pressure, the Grant County Commission voted that its annual contract with Wildlife Services shall require the agency to use non-lethal conflict resolution measures before resorting to killing.
We thank our partners at WildEarth Guardians and activists in Grant County, especially Glenn Griffin (who knows what suffering in a trap is like after having two dogs go through the experience) for his dedication to this outcome.
A similar contract has expired in Doña Ana county. By the time you read this, it may have voted on the contract and any changes for the coming year.
This year, County commissioners can expect more pressure to stop the use of indiscriminate traps and poisons right out of the gate by requiring that other means to prevent and resolve problems be tried first. Or next year. Or however long it takes!
Featured image – The wild population of Mexican wolves needs genetic diversity. This spring, a record 20 wolf pups were cross-fostered from captives to wild dens. Photo by Jim Schultz, Chicago Zoological Society