Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has pulled two female Mexican gray wolves from the wild in the Gila National Forest following attacks on livestock.
A removal order has been issued for a third wolf in which lethal force may be used.
“We will use that as a very last resort,” said Brady McGee, who coordinates the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mexican wolf recovery program.
According to Fish and Wildlife spokesman Mark Davis, ranchers living near the Gila had reported 12 wolf depredations of livestock, plus one by a dog. Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate from the Center for Bio Diversity, said the attacks occurred in Catron County.
“During the recently concluded aerial survey, biologists tried to catch two suspected culprits, neither wearing collars,” Davis said. “It didn’t work. Two additional depredations followed after the count concluded. The service then caught two young females in the national forest and placed them in a facility at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. There, biologists hope, they will determine if they have the right animals.”
The Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in northern Socorro County has a captive wolf facility that has been instrumental in the wolf recovery program.
Robinson was critical of removal of the two wolves he described as “yearlings” because Fish and Wildlife officials were not sure they were involved in the attacks.
“Removal of the wolves in the past has damaged the population and narrowed genetic diversity,” Robinson said.
He also said ranchers may be partially responsible for the livestock deaths. Robinson told the Journal the attacks were in an area where ranchers often fail to remove cattle carcasses in a timely manner that were not the result of a wolf attack. He said the wolves are attracted to the area because of the carcasses. Once the wolves have eaten the carcasses, Robinson said the wolves may attack other livestock in the area.
The Mexican wolf population in the wild in the U.S. was at 114 at last count, at the end of 2017. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mexican wolf recovery plan stipulates that the U.S. population reaching an average of 320 individuals sustained over several years would constitute recovery.
The wolves in the wild live in areas south of Interstate 40 in Arizona and New Mexico.
Conservation advocates and ranchers have often been at odds with the Fish and Wildlife Service about the recovery plan.
Robinson calls the effort “a disaster,” saying Fish and Wildlife officials have “succumbed to political pressure.”