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Last month’s killing of four Mexican gray wolves in southwestern New Mexico by federal agencies has prompted outcries from wildlife groups.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on March 18 said there were 163 endangered Mexican gray wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona, a population increase for the second year in a row.
But 2019 was also the deadliest year for livestock killed by wolves, with 126 confirmed incidents in New Mexico and 58 in Arizona.
The current management plan for the animal allows agencies to “intentionally harass, implement non-lethal control measures, translocate, place in captivity, or lethally control problem wolves.”
One wolf was killed by the Interagency Field Team on March 23, and the other three were killed on March 28.
Wolves killing calves and adult cows was cited as the agency’s reason for all four lethal removals.
“These killings on behalf of the livestock industry are a shame, especially considering they happened right after the announcement of population increases,” Michael Robinson, advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Journal. “Some ranchers take efforts to protect their livestock, but some are really lackadaisical about it, so Fish and Wildlife ends up taking these measures, in one case killing an uncollared wolf pup.”
In a March 24 memo authorizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services Program to remove three wolves, Brady McGee, coordinator of the Mexican gray wolf program, said livestock depredations had continued despite agencies working to “mitigate the scenario,” and were likely to continue without additional control measures.
“I am concerned with the numerous depredations in this area over a short period of time and the toll these depredations have caused the livestock producer,” McGee wrote. “It is the service’s intent to recover the Mexican wolf in a manner that reduces economic effects on the local livestock industry.”
The Interagency Field Team and groups like Defenders of Wildlife work with ranchers in wolf-occupied areas to prevent livestock depredations. Methods include removing animal carcasses that attract wolves, changing where calving operations take place and patrolling on horseback to scare away wolves. Fish and Wildlife memos authorizing the lethal wolf removals state that area ranchers had been taking preventative measures.
The wolves belonged to the Prieto Pack and the Mangas Pack in southwestern New Mexico. Both packs are in an area that had at least 20 confirmed livestock kills by wolves on federal or private land from September 2019 to mid-March.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.