Advocates say more releases needed to bolster populations
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Taking a small step away from the brink of extinction, the Mexican gray wolf population grew for the second year in a row.
According to the latest census there are now 26 wolves in New Mexico and 32 wolves in Arizona. Most importantly for the success of the recovery program, the number of breeding pairs increased from just two in each of the preceding annual counts to six in 2011.
That increase came despite the fact that the massive Wallow Fire in Arizona burned through inportant denning habitat.
Federal officials say continued collaboration and reduction in livestock losses is key to developing the social acceptance needed for successful long-term recovery.
“Building public tolerance by those who live on the land and must coexist with the wolf is so very important to the success of Mexican wolf recovery in Arizona,” said Arizona Game and Fish Department director Larry Voyles.
The latest wolf census shows that 18 pups born during 2011 have survived, boosting the total population to 58, up from 42 just a couple of years ago. There may be other pups living in the wild that weren’t detected in the surveys, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Previous annual reports are online here.
“Eight more wolves in the wild than the previous year is a step back from the edge of extinction,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “And that’s happy news. Of course, six breeding pairs is still perilously low — and that low number is due, in part, to the Obama administration’s slowdown in releasing wolves into the wild.”
“Building public tolerance by those who live on the land and must coexist with the wolf is so very important to the success of Mexican wolf recovery in Arizona,” Voyles said. “To that end, we have seen an increase in numbers this past year, even with Arizona’s largest wildfire, the Wallow, which burned through three packs’ denning areas during the time pups were being born and raised.”
By the recovery program’s original 1998 blueprint, the population was projected to reach 102 wolves by 2006, including 18 breeding pairs. No recovery goal has yet been established for the Mexican wolf; a recovery team is now working on creating such a goal.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released just two wolves into the wild in 2011. Both released wolves had been captured in past years.
In total, during the past five years, just 11 captured wolves have been released into the wild, while dozens of other once-wild wolves still languish in captivity. Only a single wolf has been released from the captive-breeding pool (i.e. an animal not originally captured from the wild) over the past five years, and that was in 2008.
Nine wolves are known to have died in 2011, including two illegally shot, one apparently killed by a vehicle, one shot by the government, one struck by lightning and four whose causes of death have not been released.
“Restoring wolves to the wild helps restore the balance of nature in the Southwest,” said Robinson. “More wolves means stronger and more alert elk and deer, more leftover meals for badgers and bears, and healthier streamsides as elk spend less time eating willow shoots.”