Conservation groups ask for the release of more wolf packs

July 15, 2018

Twenty-five conservation groups are asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to release three more wolf packs into the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico this summer, the organizations said in a news release.

Infrequent releases from captivity and other reasons have led to “reduced diversity and led to genetic homogeneity,” the release said.

“The close relatedness” among the wolves has led to fewer pups born per litter, the groups said, noting that the population grew by just four between 2014 and 2017.

The New Mexico Cattle Growers Association and other groups will fight the proposal, Executive Director Caren Cowan said Thursday.

The release of Mexican gray wolves into the wild started in 1998 but has been mired in controversy and opposition from the Cattle Growers Association. In 2016, the Fish and Wildlife Service started using “cross-fostering,” or the release of captive-born pups into existing packs in the wild, but only 10 pups survived in 2016-17, the environmental organizations said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service disputed conservation groups’ claim on the effectiveness of cross-fostering.

“Initial results from the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program have demonstrated that cross-fostering can be successful in releasing captive wolves that survive to reproductive age,” the agency said in a statement.

The agency said it is “fully cognizant of the critical need to improve the gene diversity of the wild populations of Mexican wolves” and that strategies for releasing wolves from captivity may include the release of individual or paired adult wolves, the release of a pack or cross-fostering of pups.

“Mexican gray wolves are in a race with extinction and the clock is ticking,” Bryan Bird, Defenders of Wildlife’s Southwest Program director, said in a statement. “If we’re committed to saving this animal from extinction then the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to release more adult wolves into the wild and improve their genetic condition.”

Cowan disagreed. “To dump three packs in the wilderness on a whim right now doesn’t serve the wolf or anybody else,” he said.

In a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional director, Amy Lueders, the groups said the reintroduction program was “successfully undertaken until abandoned under political pressure in 2007.”

The conservation organizations said scientists have criticized the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2017 Mexican wolf recovery plan because they claim it’s insufficient to address inbreeding. The plan is being challenged in court.

The Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team performed cross-fostering operations eight times in April and May of this year, and the team “will be evaluating release needs in 2018 and putting out a proposal later this year,” the agency said.

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