Zoo-born Mexican wolf pups find new homes in wild

Members of the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team process a pair of captive-born wolf pups in 2017 to be raised in the wild. The process is known as cross-fostering.

What’s in a word like “essential?”

Quite a bit, as it turns out.

So the US Fish and Wildlife Service is once again seeking public comment on another interesting wrinkle in the 40-year effort to return the Mexican gray wolf to the wild in Arizona and New Mexico.

The USFWS is considering changes in its “10J” rule in managing a far-flung population of some 162 wild Mexican wolves.

The change defines three major questions.

First: Are the wolves “essential” or “non-essential” to the recovery of the species?

Currently the wild population of wolves is considered “experimental” and "non-essential" because the species would survive due to the population of captive wolves.

In 2017, the USFWS finalized the updated Mexican wolf recovery plan, originally adopted in 1982.

Then in 2018 Judge Jennifer Zipps ordered the USFWS to overhaul the 10J rule to take into account opinions of the scientists from the agency’s recovery team to bring the rule into harmony with the overall 2017 recovery plan.

The USFWS previously decided that so many wolves remain in captive breeding programs that the wild wolves aren’t “essential” to survival of the species. This provides more flexibility in the management of the wolves. For starters, the USFWS doesn’t have to designate “critical habitat” considered necessary for the species to survive. It also means other agencies like US Forest Service don’t have to formally consult with the USFWS when it comes to things like granting grazing leases in areas critical to the future of the wolves.

The “non-essential” designation gives federal managers more flexibility on killing or removing wolves that conflict with cattle or humans inside the designated overall recovery area — which includes much of Arizona and New Mexico south of I-40 in the 2017 plan.

In response to a federal court ruling and a pile of lawsuits, the USFWS is considering whether to instead label the wild wolves as “essential.” This could then lead to designation of critical habitat in the huge reintroduction area. And that could potentially lead to restrictions on other federally managed activities within that area.

The second question involves how the federal government will know when there are enough wolves reproducing in the wild that they no longer need protection as a threatened or endangered species. The existing 10J rule says the wolves will have recovered when the population hits 325, with an agreement to not let the population grow beyond that point. But that rule’s not consistent with the goals established in the 2017 recovery plan.

So the second proposed change in the 10J rule would say the wolves can be delisted once they’ve maintained an average population of 320 for at least eight years. That means in some years, their numbers could exceed 325.

Third, the USFWS is considering a change in the pace at which it releases additional, captive-reared wolves. Federal biologists have been introducing pups born in captivity into the dens of wild wolf mothers with pups of the same age. That’s intended to not only boost the population, but increase the genetic diversity of the wolves. All the Mexican wolves in the world today are descended from just seven remaining wolves captured in the wild back before 1982. Critics have suggested biologists should also release captive-born family groups to speed the population increase.

Those three possible changes come in response to a 2018 federal court ruling centered on the 2015 10J rule. A 60-day public comment period started last week.

Potential impact

So do three changes in the 10J rule represent a big deal – or a nitpick?

USFWS Public Affairs specialist Alislinn Maestas says the changes are narrowly centered on the judge’s ruling and the 10J rule. These changes won’t affect the overall recovery plan.

She said the biggest impact would come if the USFWS reclassifies the wild wolves as “essential,” triggering the much more formal consultation process with agencies like the Forest Service when it comes to government actions that have an impact on the wolves.

A change that results in the potential designation of critical habitat could conceivably have far-reaching effects, since the vast majority of that habitat is federal and subject to decisions by the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies. Those agencies regulate timber harvesting and cattle grazing over a vast area. The USFWS might not end up designating any critical habitat at all – or it could designate large areas.

Separate lawsuit seeks to expand the wild population

In any case, the relatively narrow decision about the change in the 10J management rule remains just one of the legal fronts on which the USFWS must defend its effort to return the wolves to the wild.

A separate lawsuit seeking much more sweeping changes in the recovery plan adopted in 2017 continues to make its way through court.

Environmental groups and consulting biologists have argued the USFWS should establish at least three separate wolf populations within the reintroduction area, which covers half of two states. Currently, the reintroductions have all taken place in an area of eastern Arizona near Alpine and western New Mexico's Gila National Forest.

Some of the suits claim a single, isolated wolf population of 300 wolves would still remain vulnerable to extinction from wildfires, drought, change in the prey base or hunting by humans. Environmental groups and some federal biologists have argued the USFWS should establish two or three separate populations, including one population along the Mexican border that can mingle with about 30 wolves in the Sierra Madre now managed by the Mexican government.

Judge Zipps concluded, “To ignore this dire warning was an egregious oversight by the agency.”

The last effort to overhaul the recovery plan ran into a buzz saw of opposition.

Ranchers complained the wolves in the existing recovery area were taking a steady toll on their herds, without adequate compensation from the federal government. Ranchers have leases to graze their herds on federal land throughout much of the existing wolf recovery area. About half of the 162 wolves recorded in the last census live in Arizona. Some ranchers say losses to the wolves could ultimately bankrupt their operations.

However, environmentalists supported the conclusions of the USFWS biologists that a single, limited population of the endangered wolf subspecies would remain much too vulnerable to extinction – after 20 years of costly effort to re-establish a self-sustaining wild population.

“Time is running out for the critically endangered Mexican wolves, said David Parsons, a retired Fish and Wildlife Service Mexican Wolf Recovery coordinator in a press release in support of the judge’s ruling in 2018. “This time the Fish and Wildlife Service must get it right – follow the law, follow the science, and push back on political interference. The wolves know best where to live and what their ecologically effective population size should be.”

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com

(11) comments

Russ_in_WML

never was essential. waste of money on a needless predator.

claycomb

The wolves have to eat to stay alive, so there goes your deer and elk babies and the cattlemans calves.

sensible

Sorry there Russ but it's the humans that are predators not wolfs, not any animals!! This just happens to be the Creators planet not you or any human.. Take care of the planet or it will humble all of us sooner than expected.

Frosty169

Shared by a friend and I agree.

Best logical analysis of animal activist activities and thought process I have ever seen: In my job depends on Ag.

By: Danielle Roberts Lindler "I’ve never fully understood this line of thinking; that animals have more rights on the landscape because it’s “their land”...I have studied various environmental ethics for decades and minored in such... not being obtuse but humans didn’t invade Earth from another planet and my view is we have every right to this planet as other species ...and this isn’t to say we shouldn’t be good stewards of the land; I staunchly advocate for such ...but to say that this planet is only the animals land implies that people are invasive and separate from nature and if so exactly where did we invade from? However the its “their land” argument is only used in currently unpopulated lands yet urban ones are not held to this standard...especially when you consider one of the most biologically diverse areas historically in Ca was the Bay Area (due to the confluence of forests, ocean, wetlands, estuaries, etc)- yet we don’t see folks asking Bay Area residents to move away or give space to species X or to change their way of life by changing their profession.

I personally have been stalked by a cougar and had another encounter where one snuck up on me within 5 feet of my back (how I’m still here amazes me-I’m a forester and it’s part of being in the woods) and while I admire the species there are too many of them. And to take away the ability of professionals to use a depredation permit to take problem animals is short sighted, naive and quite frankly dangerous."

Yankeesgohome

As a land owner who is forced to let Ranchers use my land to graze cattle I support all efforts to continue protecting the wolfs. The Ranchers I deal with have it made using this free private lands their cattle can just trample, graze and defacate all over drawing biblical plagues of flies, risks to my animals, etc. Ranchers are always crying about these wolves but too bad, I much rather deal with wolves than hundreds of cows on my property and I can't say or do anything because its up to me to fence 200 acres to keep them of my property. Open Range outweighs any of their complaints. The property owners get zero $ but the Ranchers get free food for their cattle which would cost them a ton if they actually had to feed their own herds....ridiculous

Bob Smith

The rancher strings barbed wire across the range, drills wells and bulldozes stock ponds everywhere, drives off the elk and antelope and bighorn sheep, poisons coyotes and prairie dogs, shoots eagle and bear and cougar on sight, supplants the native bluestem and grama grass with tumbleweed, cow ****, cheat grass, snakeweed, anthills, poverty weed, mud and dust and flies – and then leans back and smiles broadly at the Tee Vee cameras and tells us how much he loves the West.

– Edward Abbey

Mountain Dweller

Wolves don't just harm ranchers. People keep getting that mixed up. The changes they want to make will affect regular property owners. If you have a pet dog, chickens, small animals, anything alive the wolves come and get them. Extending their range, making them a protected status for habitat would be detrimental to regular property owners and ranchers. I am sick and tired of ranchers cows on my land also, but the wolf is a much greater threat. Please keep the two issues separate and realize that everybody that's posted here just being mad at the ranchers, if those wolves were around your property or den up right next to it, you wouldn't be happy at all. Especially if you had no control over your own property anymore because it's designated as essential habitat. We all need to stay together and focus on keeping our rights to property and health and liberty and not have on our property rights taken away by people that value the wolf over all of us. I'm sure you've all heard about the property owners who weren't able to do much of anything with their land because a toad or a fish or something was there, or could one day be there, that had protected habitat status. This is what they want to do with the wolf and this is what it will bring to us if we don't stay together and stop this. Please start writing your congressman, everybody in charge, and speak up to get your voice heard so the wolves aren't used as an excuse for new regulations to take over our lives any more than they already have. These changes are more about private property and our private rights than anything to do with the ranchers.

Bguy

When you can't take your family in the Woods and enjoy family time and because your worried about a wolf attack then the wolves need to to leave. Quit a family member a couple of weeks ago went into the woods to enjoy themselves and their son was just about attacked by a wolf!!!!!!! Family members come first before wolves. GET RID OF THE WOLVES!!!!!!!

CH McCall

My name is Heather and I recently posted my sons story of being stalked by wolves during a family outing in the mountains a few days ago. My post went viral and got tagged by activists groups. This is what I have observed: Many of the people that want these wolves to be here were vile and despicable. Not all, but MANY!! They actually said that my son needed to die...and not just one person. I had to block and delete many of the comments that had crude and foul language. I have had 2 people contact me and said that after commenting in support of my family they received pornographic images sent to their phones. The moral compass of this group is way off. Way off! And these are the people who want to tell us that we need to let this continue to happen in our community. Why do they get to have any say at all? Human Rights, per our Constitution, supersedes ALL. There was once a people that that felt so strongly to declare their rights, that centuries later we still uphold their document in the highest esteem! They said, "...That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends ("life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"), it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." These wolves are literally taking away our Safety and the pursuit of our happiness! We consider the mountains our backyard and we cannot safely go there anymore. And worse...people are hearing the wolves off of their literal back porches that are well within the city limits. They are coming to town! There is a video of a wolf running though my town. This program must be done away with! The safety of anyone who enters the mountains is at risk and the economical impact will be too great a loss for our already suffering community. I beg people to consider the rights of the people before the rights of an animal. This honestly shouldn't even be a topic. It is common sense. They weren't here before and we were fine...the elk and deer stayed in the mountain and didn't come into town, the ranchers didn't lose thousands of dollars and have their children traumatized by driving up on a wolf killing a calf, we could all go about our activities in the mountain without fear or worry. Then, came the wolf. In my post I have people saying I'm lying because I said that my son has had 2 encounters with wolves and that is so rare so this is "fake news", they said. What they don't know is that he has had many more!!!!!!!! I only mention the 2 worst encounters. Why is it happening here then?? That's a good question! Why are there so many? Why do they want to increase the numbers when we are already having so many problems? Why are these wolves being brought to our town????? About a month ago, we were just a few miles from town my son came up on a den with a pup that poked its head out. Then, near there, we found what looked like a drop site where these wolves were being fed. My post is full of other peoples encounters with wolves. So I would say they are right...this is not normal at all. But, it is happening and it needs to stop and be dealt with. The must not be deemed essential!

Supershy

I have been enjoying the Gila National Forest for over 14 years- camping, hiking and I have brought one of my son’s hunting Elk 4 times. We witnessed a Wolf killing a Cow and it was nasty to see- ran the Wolves off but the Cow’s rump was mutilated and she didn’t make it. It is not a necessary dog/wolf to be protected as there are many of them in captivity. What’s worse is these animals seem to be concentrating in areas and wreaking havoc on Wildlife. The New Mexico and Arizona Game and Fish as well as Tourism Departments should be very concerned about these wild dogs. They kill for sport! They are not needed to be protected for the Eco-System..I will not bring my small children or my pets anymore for fear of these ruthless killers. When we lose a human life to a pack of dogs that we are allowing to not fear humans and encroach on land owners - who is to blame? How are the Land Owners and Ranchers in these concentrated areas supposed to protect their families and livelihoods?

Not Essential and let them find their own way along! What gives them land rights to the rest of the world? With pressure they will spread out and survive.

Thanks for allowing us to post.

user12345

The wolves are not essential. They cause all kinds of problems. It is scary to think they could attack a small child.

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