Support for the reintroduction and ultimate recovery for the Mexican gray wolf in the Southwest is stronger than ever – and where it counts most, with the people of Arizona and New Mexico, with the public. Despite illegal killings by those with no respect for the law or for one of the most endangered mammals in North America, despite the recalcitrance and outright hostility by certain government entities, despite rules that limit the wolves’ ability to range and thrive, and despite a long-overdue updated recovery plan, Mexican gray wolves are there, in the wild, in our national forests.
There is much to do to ensure that we move beyond the threat of a second extinction in the wild for these critically endangered animals, however. We must first of all demand that the federal government stop the foot dragging and reintroduce additional wolves to help bolster the size of the small population – only 58 wolves – and to ensure greater genetic diversity in these wild wolves. Without that there is concern that a war on wolves, a war of attrition, will mean their certain demise.
The rules that limit reintroductions of wolves in New Mexico should also be modified to allow direct releases in the Gila National Forest, which is the majority of the bi-state recovery area. New Mexicans have repeatedly expressed support for wolves in the wild – it is the government that does not seem to get that. One population of Mexican gray wolves in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico is not enough to ensure the long-term survival of this species. It is time to move forward with plans to reintroduce wolves to additional areas where they can thrive as well.
When the work to recover Mexican gray wolves started in 1976 due to the passage of the Endangered Species Act three years earlier, no one thought it would be easy to bring back this amazing animal. There have been decades of misinformation about wolves and a concentrated campaign to erase them from the face of the earth. Wolves had been eradicated in the Southwest by 1970, and few wolves remained in Mexico at that time. The strong commitment of the American people to protect endangered species, the Endangered Species Act … and the strong efforts and hard work of dedicated wildlife biologists and volunteers resulted in a population of wolves being reintroduced to Arizona and New Mexico in 1998.
Fourteen years after those initial reintroductions, the wolves continue to struggle, however. It is not because they are not doing their part. They are forming packs – family units – breeding, raising young and killing elk and deer. They are fulfilling their role in the ecosystem. We need to fulfill our role as stewards, as people with a responsibility to these animals, their ecosystem, and to future generations of Americans. We must ensure that these animals have a chance and that our children can hear their howls decades from now. There is strong support from the public for that. Now we need our government at all levels to get that message.