SILVER CITY, N.M.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released its final revised Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan with court-ordered measures to lower deaths, including those caused by illegal killings. Mexican gray wolves are one of the most endangered canids in the world, with only 196 counted in Arizona and New Mexico earlier this year.
Today’s revised plan calls for increasing law enforcement presence in “mortality hot spots” to address poaching. Between 1998, when the wolves were reintroduced, and 2020, 119 wolves were confirmed to have been killed illegally. Last year 25 wolves died, and mortality causes have not been disclosed for most.
“More on-the-ground protection for Mexican gray wolves could deter illegal killings, but Fish and Wildlife needs to follow through and do even more,” said Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “For example, retrieving telemetry receivers loaned to livestock owners would restore the wolves’ natural ability to stay hidden from potential poachers.”
Scientists and advocates have criticized the Service for loaning telemetry receivers programmed to the wolves’ radio-collars to ranchers. Two people in possession of such receivers were among the fewer than 10 individuals who have killed Mexican gray wolves and been held accountable in court.
The revised plan calls for the agency to educate local communities, ranchers and hunters about wolves and to “implement livestock conflict avoidance measures.” Conservationists warned in their comments on the draft plan that the Service’s past efforts to avoid such conflicts have yielded insufficient results and that the agency and its partners need to do more.
For example, ranchers using public lands need to remove or destroy the carcasses of non-wolf-killed livestock before wolves begin to scavenge. Scientists have repeatedly urged the adoption of this measure to prevent wolves from being drawn to other vulnerable domestic animals.
Today’s plan does not alter the low wolf population target numbers that are not supported by science. These targets help determine when the wolves have recovered. It similarly does not establish genetic metrics for determining recovery. These are changes that the Center and its allies are still seeking through an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Improved genetic diversity is necessary for wolf recovery.
“We’ll keep pushing the Service to work harder to save these beautiful, intelligent and social animals from extinction,” said Robinson. “Mexican gray wolves maintain balance in the arid and delicate ecosystem they call home. We hope the appeals court will require the Service to follow the science, which will lead to measures like genetic metrics for recovery and releasing well-bonded family packs from captivity to save the population from inbreeding.”