For the fourth year in a row the number of endangered Mexican gray wolves has increased. There are now 83 individuals, including 46 in New Mexico and 37 in Arizona, compared to 75 a year ago and 58 at the beginning of 2012. The number of breeding pairs also increased from three to five.
“It’s thrilling that the wolf population has increased for the fourth year in a row,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “They remain a long way from being recovered, but this is definitely encouraging news.”
Part of the reason for this increase is that after litigation and pressure from the Center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been removing and killing fewer wolves in response to livestock depredations. In 2008 the Center and allies successfully sued the agency over a policy that had largely turned over management to the two states and routinely removed any wolf that was involved in three livestock depredations.
Experts say other changes in management, however, are still needed for full recovery, including releasing more wolves from captivity and starting additional population centers in the Grand Canyon and southern Rockies. Over the past five years the Fish and Wildlife Service has released only a single new wolf from the captive-breeding pool into the wild, and that wolf was taken back into captivity just three weeks after his release last January. The agency also shut down a recovery team that was widely expected to issue a new recovery plan calling for releasing Mexican wolves in new areas.
“The continued increase in wolf numbers is a big relief,” said Robinson. “But much more still needs to be done to recover these highly endangered and beautiful animals to sustainable levels.”
Mexican wolves were reintroduced in Arizona and New Mexico in 1998 and were projected to increase to 102 wolves in the wild, including 18 breeding pairs, by the end of 2006. But they have continued to fall well short of these goals, likely because of a combination of captures and killings by Fish and Wildlife Service, illegal killings, small litter sizes and low pup-survival rates. In addition to the 2008 lawsuit, the Center filed and settled three lawsuits last year that all improve the Mexican wolf recovery program by limiting wolf removals, providing more room for releases and for roaming, and ensuring more focused conservation attention.