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Senseless pup killings show urgent need for reform

Mexican gray wolf pups are seen in a den in the Gila National Forest. (Courtesy of U.S. Fish &Amp; Wildlife Service)

Mexican gray wolf pups are seen in a den in the Gila National Forest. (Courtesy of U.S. Fish &Amp; Wildlife Service)

They never saw their first birthdays.

In March three Mexican gray wolf pups in southwestern New Mexico, from two different families, were gunned down by federal agents, likely from a plane. The father of one of the pups was also shot.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for recovering this critically endangered subspecies of gray wolf, specifically targeted pups in one of its kill orders.

The service also targeted the papa wolf, despite his valuable DNA, which could have bolstered this dangerously inbred population.

The March massacre of Mexican wolves was the worst such debacle since the 2006 federal destruction of the nine-member Hon-Dah pack in Arizona.

Altogether government employees have shot 20 Mexican wolves since reintroduction began in 1998, and they’ve inadvertently killed another 22 intended for live capture.

Our conservation organization has filed Freedom of Information Act requests with both the Fish and Wildlife Service and Wildlife Services, the federal wildlife-killing program that actually pulled the trigger. We want to know the sordid politics behind such heartless and calamitous actions. And we want to determine how the survivors in both packs are faring.

Scientific studies show that killing wolves does not make up for underlying negligence in safeguarding livestock. That’s because other wolves will use the same territories, run into the same problems, and suffer similar fates.

Case in point: Before the young brother and sister of the Mangas pack were killed on March 28, the Fox Mountain pack was destroyed through federal trapping in the same area. On the mesa where the papa wolf’s Prieto pack lives, generations of wolves had scavenged on livestock carcasses before they began actively preying on cattle.

And records received from a previous Freedom of Information Act request show the Prieto alpha male had scavenged on livestock carcasses.

Removing wolves does not save livestock. And while the government maintains that federal wolf “control” builds tolerance for wolves, peer-reviewed research from the Midwest suggests the opposite: that official sanction of wolf-killing actually leads to more illegal killing of wolves. More than 100 Mexican wolves have been lawlessly killed, a higher rate than in other wolf recovery programs.

The question of how agencies manage our fragile Mexican wolf population now has increased importance, since, through June 15, the Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting comments on the scope of a wolf management rule change.

A federal court ruling prompted this review. It found the service had committed an “egregious oversight” in earlier rule making by ignoring scientists’ findings that removing many wolves from the wild – while releasing few from captivity – would cause severe genetic problems.

The agency’s 2015 rule itself stemmed from an earlier Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit pertaining, in part, to the effects of wolves scavenging on livestock carrion, a problem the service has repeatedly ignored.

The agency has no authority to ignore what citizens consider to be important in wolf management. Those who want their voices heard can comment at, Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2020-0007.

Let Fish and Wildlife officials know: Every wolf pup should be alive to frolic on its first birthday. Wolf parents and their pups shouldn’t have access to livestock carrion that will start them on a path toward their own destruction.

Michael Robinson is author of “Predatory Bureaucracy: The Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West.”