SILVER CITY NM -- This week, the interagency Mexican wolf reintroduction team refused New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s request to suspend and ultimately change the controversial wolf removal policy known as SOP 13, the rule that requires the permanent removal from the wild of any wolf involved in three fatal livestock depredation incidents over a one-year period.
These trappings and shootings disrupt the wolves’ highly structured family groups, separate mated pairs, and can leave pups without parents. They also reduce the genetic diversity of a population based on only seven founding animals.
Instead of honoring Richardson’s request and the recommendations of scientists, the Mexican Wolf Adaptive Management Oversight Committee proposed merely a “clarification” of SOP 13. The new revision states that if “intentional attraction or repeated knowing attraction of wolves contributed or likely contributed to causing a confirmed wolf depredation,” then the wolves will not be penalized for that depredation.
Seventeen conservation groups, including Southwest PEER, responded to the clarification with a letter requesting a complete cessation of government wolf removals and noted that the new clarification “is a completely unenforceable provision, which depends on managers’ knowledge of livestock owners’ intentions or of their awareness.”
The letter also noted the unanimity among scientists that predator control against the Mexican wolf must be suspended in order to reach the reintroduction project’s goal of at least 100 wolves including 18 breeding pairs in the wild, a goal that was intended to be achieved by the end of 2006. The end-of-2007 population count revealed 52 wolves including just three breeding pairs.
“This ‘clarification’ is lipstick on a pig,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the 17 conservation and animal protection organizations that responded with a forceful letter requesting a cessation of government wolf removals. “This deeply flawed policy isn’t working to recover wolves and the clarification won’t either.”
The American Society of Mammalogists and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (which manages the captive population of Mexican wolves) have called for suspending SOP 13 and halting wolf removals. In addition, nine eminent scientists, including retired Mexican wolf recovery coordinator David Parsons, geneticist Philip Hedrick, and Mexican Wolf Three-Year Review lead-author Paul Paquet, wrote to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to call attention to the disastrous effects of wolf removals.
“Recovering the Mexican wolf is possible if the government would listen to the scientists,” said Stephen Capra of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.
The letter also notes that the clarification does not nearly suffice to protect wolves from the consequences of scavenging on livestock carcasses, as scientists have called for.
Said Robinson: “Cattle carcasses that die of non-wolf causes on the national forests will still be allowed to stay out there instead of being removed, inducing wolves to prey on stock. Ultimately this will lead back to the government shooting and trapping the wolves.”
Mexican gray wolves are endangered because of a previous U.S. government predator control program that poisoned and trapped wolves and dug pups from their dens, eliminating the species from the Southwest by the early 1930s.
Starting in 1950, the Fish and Wildlife Service sent its salaried personnel and government-produced poisons to the Republic of Mexico to duplicate that program. This resulted in the killing of all but a few wolves in Mexico that were captured alive and, after passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, served as the seed source for an emergency captive-breeding program. The reintroduction program began in 1998 using the progeny of seven of those last survivors.
“Government extermination at the behest of the livestock industry has already happened once. We can't let it happen again,” said Greta Anderson, Arizona director of the Western Watersheds Project. “These policies are a scary deja vu.”