While grey wolf populations in the northern US still face persecution — from delisting from the Endangered Species List that is leading to court battles to a cull that could wipe out half of Wyoming’s wolf population— the Mexican grey wolf may be experiencing a glimmer of hope in the south. Though a plan to reintroduce the species to its historic habitat in Mexico is not without controversy. The Mexican grey wolf, a sub-species of the grey wolf, was essentially wiped out from the southwest by the 1970s. It was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the US has made efforts toward a recovery of the species since then with reintroduction of the species in Arizona and New Mexico starting in 1998. Mexico has a captive breeding program with 66 wolves. And it is from that population that Mexico wants to try reintroducing wolves to the wild.
Huffington Post reports, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and officials with the Arizona Department of Game and Fish recently learned of the plan by the Mexican government to release five captive-bred Mexican gray wolves at an undisclosed ranch in northeastern Sonora. Mexican officials on Tuesday [9/13/11] were still working on finding a suitable date for the release, said Laura Aguilar, a spokeswoman for the Mexican agency that oversees natural resources and the environment. The plan was first proposed in 2009 but has faced delays.”
Though there has been a reintroduction program in the US since 1998, it has not been without problems. Of the 80 reintroduced wolves have have died from 1998 to 2010, 37 were shot illegally (and 12 more hit by vehicles). The program has also of course had its share of controversy with ranchers raising livestock. Concerns over the reintroduction of wolves in Mexico include what effect the reintroduction will have in other areas including the US side of the boarder, as well as how they will be tracked so that they can be monitored and dealt with should they prey on livestock herds within the US.
According to Huffington Post, “Officials said the wolves that will be released in Mexico will be fitted with radio collars so they can be monitored. If they cross the border, the Fish and Wildlife Service said they will have the full protection of the federal Endangered Species Act as long as they are outside the boundaries of the wolf recovery area that spans southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. If the wolves are found within the recovery area, they will be considered as part of the experimental population — a classification that gives wildlife officials greater flexibility in managing the animals.”
It would likely take awhile (if ever) before the wolves introduced in Mexico move into the boarder of the 4 million-acre reintroduction area in Arizona and New Mexico as it is located quite a bit north of the border. Map via USFWS
The recovery for a top level predator like the wolf is fraught with controversy and conflict with humans. But there are strong efforts underway to bring the population back up to numbers that keep it safe from extinction. There are 47 Mexican Wolf breeding facilities in United States and Mexico — and reintroduction to the wild is the logical next step, wherever it might occur.