Wolf-recovery program now ‘at risk of failure’

Cumulative impacts of many factors cited

A new report by the Us Fish and Wildlife Service assesses the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program and the news isn’t good.

Cumulatively there are many risks for the population.  Among them are poaching, too many controls related to depredation, small litter sizes and low pup survival possibly related to inbreeding.

The report states:

While it is not biologically reasonable to expect the population to track exactly with predictions or to increase every year, population swings over the last 5 years, coupled with a steady decline in the number of breeding pairs over the last 3 years, and inability of the project to achieve its objective to increase the minimum population by 10 percent in each of the last 2 years, indicate that the cumulative effects of identified threats coupled with the population’s biological parameters are putting the population at risk of failure.

Wolf-recovery program now ‘at risk of failure’.
Tim Steller Arizona Daily Star

19 Responses to “Wolf-recovery program now ‘at risk of failure’”

  1. Maska Says:

    “Among the initiatives under way is a proposed release of eight captive wolves into the area, which would be the most wolves released since 2003. The regional head of the Fish and Wildlife Service discussed the possible release with the directors of Arizona’s and New Mexico’s game and fish departments Wednesday.” (from Steller’s article)

    Watch to see whether this release takes place this summer. That will be a clue as to whether the FWS is taking its own report seriously. It will also be a clue as to who’s actually in charge.

  2. Jeff N. Says:

    Obviously more releases need to take place (among other things) or the lobo will go extinct in the wild a second time. I for one will be curious to see if this release takes place also. Unfortunately at this time I have zero faith in USFWS and the Obama administration do to anything differently, regarding the lobo, then the Bush administration did. There are some indications that things could change for the better but I’m not holding my breath. I hope I am pleasantly surprised.

  3. william huard Says:

    Unless the feds take poaching as a very serious threat and increase fines and penalties including mandatory jail time ( at least a year in Jail) there will be no improvement in the numbers. These wolf haters in the southwest are about as bad as you could get- if I dare say worse than Wyoming and Idaho.

  4. Jeff N. Says:

    According to the USFWS monthly report for June (covering the happenings in May) a lone collared female wolf, #F1154 was discovered dead in NM and her death is currently under investigation. Also, missing for the last few months and most likely dead is the collared alpha male of the Paradise Pack in AZ. Then again the alpha male and a subordinate male, both collared wolves, from the Fox Mountain Pack in NM have been missing for quite some time and are most likely dead. Assuming they were all illegally killed, yes poaching is a problem.

    Also, the fact that out of 31 pups born last year, only 7 survived thru 12/09 is a major concern. We need more wolves released for genetic purposes and to bolster overall numbers.

    Dispersers are having a hard time finding other single wolves because there just aren’t that many out there. Collared female 1154 was a single wolf for a year or maybe more. Another lone collared wolf M619, also not located in the past month or so, has also been running around single for a year or more if he’s even still alive.

    The only good news coming out of the program this year is that a new pair has formed and is now being referred to as the Morgart Pack. Here’s hoping they are able to produce pups and that those pups are able to survive.

  5. Maska Says:

    Jeff N–Alpha male AM1038 and two-year-old male M1161 both disappeared at the same time, after being located together on the previous week’s flight. This is at least the second time that two collared wolves traveling together were lost to follow-up at the same time–an improbability, to say the least.

    M619, the former alpha male of the Hawk’s Nest pack, has been wandering alone since he was deposed a couple of years ago. He vanishes from time to time, and the resurfaces, so I’d be a little less worried about him–at least until he’s missing for several weeks. He’s also eleven years old, and can’t last forever.

    F1154 had dispersed out of the recovery area, and was last located near U.S. 60, between Magdalena, NM, and the Very Large Array radio telescope. Her long-distance dispersal, presumably looking for a mate, is a perfect illustration of the need for more wolves in the wild. Wolves can’t hook up with mates that aren’t there.

  6. Jeff Says:

    I wonder if a few wolves from the northern rockies should be transplanted to diversify genetics? They did this with a few Texas cougars in the south Florida panther population a few years back and the kink tails diappeared.

    • WM Says:

      Hasn’t ID already formally offered, in writing, some of its wolves to any state which would take them, and had no affirmative replies? Excellent non-lethal use for “excess” wolves in states trying to control numbers. Wolf advocates should be championing this approach which helps the genetics, as it advances the broadest interpretation of an endangered species “significant portion of its range” issue. Win-win, in my view.

    • Cris Waller Says:

      The cougars were different because the Texas and Florida cougars were largely genetically identical (disregarding the inbreeding that had occurred in the Florida cats) and thus bringing in Texas cougars wouldn’t add genes to the population that weren’t already there at some point. In contrast, the Rocky Mountain and Mexican wolves are genetically distinct populations with many genetic markers that are found in one population but not the other. This makes the situation much different.

      It;s likely that the needed genetic diversity is available without using a different wolf subspecies (see http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/274/1623/2365.full) but there need to be a heck of a lot more wolves out there in the wild for it to work.

  7. WM Says:

    Cris,

    I understand the taxonomic sub-species issues, but remain confused by the practical implications for the future. The sub-species as geographically distributed have their own recovery plans. See link below for more.

    Just for a discussion sake, spinning out a hypothetical: Assume NRM wolves expand in all directions, including south as we know they eventually will into CO (evidence of this already in Northwest CO).

    Also assume (taking an optimistic view of the current reintroduction that we know for now is not working as currently implemented) that Mexican wolves eventually establish a core population that expands in various directions, including north to CO. What happens when the descendents of the NRM gray wolves meet up and presumably breed with the Mexican wolves?

    Envision the same scenario if NRM wolves moving east and the Great Lakes wolves (aka Eastern Timber Wolf in MN) expanding to the west, and they meet say in N. or S. Dakota.

    Notwithstanding the sub-species argument, won’t they all blend together at the fringes, or are we going to put up little walls around the different subspecies so they do not (just kidding, but do you see the paradox)?

    Alternatively, and I hope this is not the case, when they meet at the fringes and encounter individuals that have minor genetic differences, will they kill each other off rather than procreate?

    Will there be more “they have to look just like me, or I don’t want them in my territory” minor genetic infusions for the NRM or Mexican, Experimental Populations. And, what about some salmon eating alien wolves from Canada that some want for the Olympic Peninsula of WA?

    With the taxonomic revolution for classifying wolves resulting in one “gray wolf” species, but the NRM, Mexican, Great Lakes (and MN would say its distinct and statutorily recognized Eastern Timberwolf subspecies) I am confused, but for certain regardless of their genetic lineage they like to eat deer, elk, moose, antelope, buffalo, …. and uugggghhhh….cows.

    Ultimately, will the sub-species become a distinction without a difference for a portion of the range(s) if left to repopulate? Maybe some knowedgeable person can give some perspective on this, or point in the direction of resources to answer the question.

    FWS GRAY WOLF SPECIES PROFILE and supporting documents: http://www.fws.gov/ecos/ajax/speciesProfile/profile/speciesProfile.action?spcode=A00D

  8. Chris Harbin Says:

    There are quite a few geographic (and more than a few manmade) that need to be overcome before populations mix. Mexican wolves have enough problems in the territory they have been given and even if the USFWS introduces Mexican wolves to the North Kaibab where exploitation would be nil to mild they still would not get past Kanab/House Rock Valley area for a long time.

    • mikarooni Says:

      No, but having another genetic reservoir would be valuable.

    • WM Says:

      Chris and Cris,

      My point was, at some time in the future the subspecies will begin occupying the same territories at the fringes of their core areas of reintroduction. One must presume there is a very high probability they will interbreed. If that is the case, and NRM wolves seem to be in overabundance according to their state and federal overseers, would it make sense to translocate a few to augment the struggling Mexican (bailyi subspecies)? Yeah, I realize that AZ and NM or any states in between would probably not find that palatable, but it certainly would address and likely diffuse the issue of “threatened or endangered throughout their range.”

      I recall Defenders proposed to FWS a national wolf management plan some time back, but do not know whether it has gone anywhere. Does anyone know if there is anything being pursued on that front?

    • mikarooni Says:

      We have to be very careful with the interbreeding issue and with those individuals who would propose it. From a conservation standpoint, interbreeding means that we effectively lose the species. From the political standpoint, interbreeding is the first step in arguing that the species no longer merits separate protection. More broadly, it is thus the first step in a strategy for undermining not just conservation of a particular species, but the whole foundation of the ESA. Individuals who propose such strategies are generally not to be trusted in a conservation sense. From a genetic standpoint, the Mexican wolf is a long way from such measures being needed or advisable; but, having multiple pure genetic reservoirs is always good conservation strategy.

  9. WM Says:

    mikarooni,

    I find your “don’t trust them” comment interesting in the sense that apparently you do not support translocation to expand range of NRM wolves. We would not lose the species, so I presume you meant to say “subspecies.” And, that is a valid concern. Which is worse in-breeding of same subspecies or genetic diversity for healthy species, by co-mingling sub-species which will likely occur anyway if migration is successful over time?

    Geez, mik, there is a population of what 45-50 US origin Mexican wolves in the wild, not that many more in captivity, and at least $20-30M spent on a program that seems, according to the article to be in the shitter, and likely to remain there. Will the Mexican wolf program get the stimulation it needs, and how will that happen – no known wild Mexican wolves in Mexico, according to the article. Do we need some of theirs before they make it ever from the Sonoran to the US?

    Then there are NRM and Great Lakes populations(subspecies) busting out at the seams. Michigan wolves simply have no place to go because they are geographically constrained to the Upper Peninsula, Minnesota has confined its wolves to the NE half of the state because the habitat turns to agricultural lands (no cover and political issues), Wisconsin seems to keep its population in the northern half of the state, too. Only way for them to expand is back to Canada thru MN, or to the Dakotas to the west, and maybe south to Illinois, like that will happen with any success in any large numbers.

    Curiously we continue to wind up with the continuing residual argument regarding range and numbers of gray wolves always advanced by wolf advocates – “once gray wolves were distributed across most of the country (except the deep south) and nearly 200,000 individuals.” Yet, it appears there is little commitment for practicality to make it happen by purists – we want our subspecies.

    In the meantime, the NRM seems to have more gray wolves than they want (need?), no way to dispose of what they feel are excess to their desired management objectives, without lethal control or increasing hunting harvest quotas to balance out their other wildlife objectives, like ungulate populations. Apparently no appetite from OR or WA, UT or CO for any of those excess NRM wolves, except possibly those that migrate naturally (UT does not want them at all), and continuing obstacles for the current NRM states to have their wolves delisted.

    If one steps back to look at it from afar, this whole thing could be viewed as kind of stupid.

    Why aren’t there substantial efforts to reintroduce wolves in more populated areas, but with suitable habitat, for example to upstate NY (eg., Adirondack state park 6 million acres), PA, OH and the New England states, with Canadian stock or Great Lakes wolf stock? For me, that is a REALLY BIG WHY NOT, if everyone wants lots of them so much?

    And, no I am not talking about the asbsurdity of wolves in Central Park.

    Yeah, the more I think about it we need a national wolf plan in which everybody, and I mean everybody, gets some of their own.

    • mikarooni Says:

      Well, you may think you’re being slick; but, your agenda is pretty transparent. What you’re spreading is disinformation designed to twist the intent of the ESA, sow seeds of confusion, and ultimately undermine peoples’ understanding of how modern conservation biology works. It’s really a pretty old game and only those who are not familiar with the basics of conservation biology will fall for it. I won’t dignify it by engaging you, you slimy creep. It’s pretty shabby that you’re even haunting this website; you don’t belong here.

  10. WM Says:

    Mikarooni,

    I am sorry you feel that way toward me. Exactly what is the disinformation that I am spreading? If you have information that is better than what I have stated, please share it – facts and/or reasoned opinions.

    What I find incredibly disingenuous is that commenters like you tend to go in the direction of name calling and attempting to discredit the views of those who differ from you, without ever providing a shred of solid information and sources so that people can check and make up their own mind. I thought a purpose of this forum is to share ideas and information.

    Again, what misinformation have I given?

    And, as for my twisting the intent of the ESA, that is a really good one. There has been enough litigation over the ESA, with decisions going alot of different directions over the last fifty years, that it appears some aspects of the ESA simply are not clear – including those provisions of the law that have to do with reintroduction and repopulation of various parts of the US with however many sub-species of gray wolves there are. That is why there are at least three or four ESA related suits pending right now for the wolf alone, and dozens, maybe even hundreds of lawsuits pending over interpretation of the ESA regarding many different species, as I write this.

    I think it would be great to hear from conservation biologists that track this site. Sometimes this forum lacks meaty science content.

    And, mik, here is something for you to study relative to this article and thread, the Mexican Wolf Recovery seems to be in trouble, as the article suggests. Here is the FWS Mexican Wolf Recovery website:

    http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/mexicanwolf/

    There is alot of good stuff there. I will be the first to admit, I don’t know anything about the Mexican wolf – certainly not as much as I do about NRM or Great Lakes wolf programs, but I am making a conscious effort to learn – and actually read the materials when I have time, not that my retention is all that good. There is alot of it and it changes.

    And, if you are real ambitious, here is a website containing all the federal register notices, proposed rules and rules on the various wolf programs.

    http://ecos.fws.gov/speciesProfile/profile/displayAllDocuments!fedreg.action;jsessionid=46635E855AE706E6DB26C1F04B3C7200?spcode=A00D

    Then, if you are at a loss about reported court decisions, and current litigation I just bet if you pose your question on this forum, there are plenty of helpful folks that can get you a cite or direct you to a copy of a decision, a settlement agreement, or maybe even briefing documents by the parties to the suit.

  11. WM Says:

    mikarooni,

    Even though you have chosen not to engage, I thought you might find this of interest. The Defenders of Wildlife and NRDC jointly advocated a National Wolf Recovery plan in 2008 -directed at recovery of the SPECIES level.

    Here is the Petition, which specifically addresses the lack of connectivity among the regional recovery plans, specifically referring the lack of (genetic) connectivity among the subspecies.

    http://www.defenders.org/resources/publications/programs_and_policy/wildlife_conservation/imperiled_species/wolf/petition_to_prepare_a_recovery_plan_for_the_gray_wolf.pdf

    …and here is a key quote from the Petition:

    “As described more fully below, the Service has never issued a recovery plan for the gray wolf, Canis lupus, as listed. Instead, the Service has issued a series of disconnected recovery plans for a number of subspecies of gray wolves that are no longer listed under the ESA (Fn,3). These isolated recovery plans fail to satisfy the ESA’s clear mandate to prepare a recovery plan for each listed “species” as a whole. The Service’s subspecies recovery plans do not take into account the recovery needs of the entire listed species, do not consider the relationship between wolves in various regions of the country, and do not address the “gaps” created by the various disconnected regional recovery plans.” [p. 8].

    Footnote 3. The Service originally listed the eastern timber wolf (C. l. lycaon), the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf (C. l. irremotus), the Mexican gray wolf (C. l. baileyi), and the Texas gray wolf (C. l. monstrabilis) as separate subspecies. In 1978 the wolf was listed on the species level in response to evolving science. See Part IV, infra.

    ___________
    Looks like once again, there is some disagreement, on what the ESA requires, as between the FWS and DOW. FWS has struggled with how to deal with it, and the disagreement seems to go back all the way to the mid-1970’s.

    Again, I think in this Petition the advocacy position is wolves for all state, unless they shouldn’t get them for some reason.

    So, once again, Mik, where is the disinformation?

  12. Maska Says:

    WM, mikarooni, et al.,

    The situation in the Southwest is, as several people have pointed out, very complicated, but there may still be a possibility of setting the program back on track without taking the (to my mind) drastic step of introducing wolves from elsewhere. It will take agency officials with the will to resist intense political pressure from anti-wolf forces, however.

    In addition to the article on genetic rescue that Chris Waller linked above, I strongly suggest people interested in getting a better picture of what’s going on with Mexican gray wolves read the actual Conservation Assessment itself–not just news articles reporting on it. You can find it on the FWS Mexican wolf page at
    http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/mexicanwolf/pdf/Mexican_Wolf_Conservation_Assessment.pdf

    It’s actually quite a good analysis of where we are, how we got here, and what’s needed to improve the situation.

  13. Jeff N. Says:

    It now appears another Mexican Gray Wolf has gone missing. This time it is the alpha male of the Hawks Nest Pack AM1044. This pack has been one of the few that has had success breeding and rearing pups. Based on what limited information I have heard, the circumstances behind the disappearence of this wolf do not sound natural.

    The slow bleed of the population continues and the USFWS continues to take no corrective action. Even the supposed release of another pack into the recovery area this summer cannot be confirmed.


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