The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has a responsibility under federal law to facilitate recovery of the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf and captive-to-wild releases are a central part of that effort.
The wild Mexican gray wolf population in the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area (MWEPA) in New Mexico and Arizona currently faces a genetic crisis.
According to USFWS’s Initial Release and Translocation Proposal for 2019, the wild population’s mean kinship (MK) is approximately 0.25. This means that, on average, “individuals within the population are as related to one another as full siblings.”
Addressing the Mexican wolf’s genetic imperilment requires an active program of releasing wolves from the more genetically diverse captive population to mitigate further inbreeding. Thus, every year USFWS details its plan for the year to address the genetic status of the wild Mexican gray wolf population.
To improve the genetic diversity of the wild population in 2019, USFWS proposes to take up to 12 newborn pups from captive families to insert them into the dens of wild wolves in New Mexico and Arizona. This “cross-fostering” initiative is a coordinated event where captive-born pups are introduced into a similar-aged wild litter so the pups can grow up as wild wolves.
While cross-fostering is an effective tool for augmenting the genetic health of the wild population, members of the scientific community argue that we mustn’t rely on cross-foster events alone. Mexican gray wolf recovery demands releasing more family groups – well-bonded adult pairs with pups – into the wild too.
Geneticist Rich Fredrickson explains the importance of releasing more endangered Mexican gray wolves from the captive population into the wild. His webinar on the topic is available via the button below.
USFWS’s Proposal Summary
USFWS’s proposes the following release and translocation actions in 2019:
- Cross-foster up to 12 pups from captivity into wild wolf packs throughout the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area (MWEPA) in New Mexico and Arizona.
- Temporarily remove any female wolf that is paired with a full sibling during USFWS’s annual population survey in January/February to prevent a brother/sister mating event. During the temporary period of time in captivity, the female may be allowed to breed naturally with a captive male. At breeding season’s close (late March) USFWS would translocate the female wolf back into its home range to maintain pack dynamics, and potentially produce pups with increased genetic diversity and lower inbreeding coefficients. (USFWS was unaware of any full sibling pairs upon crafting its proposal, however, the service proposes to have the option of managing a full sibling paring(s), if documented, during the population survey.
- Provide for the translocation of wolves for management purposes as needs arise during 2019 (primarily wolves that disperse outside of the MWEPA, onto tribal lands and removal is requested, or if other packs are determined to be brother/sister pairings).
Read the plan in full below:
USFWS is providing the public an opportunity to comment on its “Initial Release and Translocation Proposal for 2019″- responses must be received by February 28, 2019.
To comment, you may submit written responses by one of the following methods:
- Electronically: You may email [email protected].
- By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail to: Mexican Wolf Recovery Program, Attn: 2019 Proposed Releases in NM; 2105 Osuna Rd NE; Albuquerque, NM 87113.
The Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) or “lobo” is the most genetically distinct lineage of wolves in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the most endangered mammals in North America. By the mid-1980s, hunting, trapping, and poisoning caused the extinction of Mexican gray wolves in the wild, with only a handful remaining in captivity. In 1998 the wolves were reintroduced into the wild as part of a federal reintroduction program under the Endangered Species Act. Today in the U.S., there is a single wild population comprising only 114 individuals - a slight increase from the 113 counted at the end of 2016.