The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it may release Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico in an effort to recover the fragile species, despite the state having refused the federal government a permit to do so.
“Notwithstanding the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish’s decision to deny our permit, the Mexican wolf is still at risk of extinction,” FWS said in a draft statement obtained by the Journal.
In the statement, FWS said it intends to pursue its Mexican wolf recovery program in New Mexico under federal authority. The Department of Interior has exempted the program from its policy of complying with state permit requirements in New Mexico, FWS said.
“Our preference is always to work collaboratively with states and we ask New Mexico to reengage with us in these efforts,” FWS said.
The Mexican wolf was brought to the brink of extinction by excessive hunting and by the 1970s, just seven animals were known to remain. The federal government began a program to breed wolves and in 1998 started releasing wolves in Arizona and occasionally transplanting them into New Mexico.
A new management rule that took effect in February allowed the FWS to introduce “new” wolves, or those bred in captivity, directly into the New Mexico wild – a critical step, advocates say, toward improving the genetics of the population.
Early this year, the FWS requested permits of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to release up to 10 Mexican wolf pups into existing packs in New Mexico — a practice known as “cross fostering” — as well as a permit to release a pair of wolves and their pups in the state. The Department denied the permits, as well as an appeal.
Game and Fish Director Alexandra Sandoval’s denial of FWS’s release request was based on the fact the department did not know how many wolves would be released or where they would be set loose, the department’s general counsel Matthias Sayer told the Journal in September.
There are 110 Mexican wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico, according to the FWS’ last count.
“Releasing Mexican wolves to the wild is the only way to save these animals from extinction,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity in Silver City. “It’s vital now that enough wolves get released to diversify their gene pool and ensure they don’t waste away from inbreeding.”
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, there are eight breeding pairs of Mexican wolves in the wild across the Gila National Forest in New Mexico, and Apache National Forest and Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona.
Inbreeding causes fewer pups to be born and fewer to survive to adulthood, advocates say, further threatening the wild population.
“It is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s obligation under the law to recover this species, and reintroductions into the wild from the more genetically diverse captive population are an essential part of that recovery process,” the FWS said in the draft statement.
This is a developing story, so please check back for more information.