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Feds Urged to Free Two Endangered Wolves Trapped in New Mexico

SILVER CITY, N.M.— Thirty-seven organizations today sent a letter urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to free two endangered wolves trapped in New Mexico and halt additional trapping.

Federal trappers recently removed two Mexican gray wolves from the wild and set traps for a third wolf for preying on cattle in the Gila National Forest. Because the removals undermine wolf recovery, today’s letter urges the Service to cancel the removal order and promptly release the captured wolves.

“Wolves can’t be recovered with traps and bullets,” said Michael Robinson, senior conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Mexican wolves are closer to extinction than the government admits. Removing wolves to placate the livestock industry is the last thing we should be doing to this profoundly endangered population.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service has refused to release its removal order to the public. But the agency has acknowledged that the order authorizes the killing of a wolf or multiple wolves.

“Given the excessive losses to the wolf population in the last year from unlawful killing, traps and other unknown causes, it’s crucial that this wolf’s life be spared,” said Mary Katherine Ray, wildlife chair for the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club. “A kill order is contrary to the goal of the recovery of this highly imperiled species.”

The Mexican wolf is one of the most endangered mammals in North America, with two reintroduced populations in Mexico and the U.S. Southwest, and roughly 300 captive wolves.

Federal trapping and shooting on behalf of the livestock industry has kept the population low since reintroduction began in Arizona and New Mexico in 1998. In 2017, 114 wolves were counted in the wild. The Fish and Wildlife Service will soon release 2018 numbers.  In Mexico, approximately 35 wolves stem from a reintroduction program begun in 2011.

“Any loss to the wild population is a step backward for Mexican wolf recovery,” stated Maggie Howell, director of the Wolf Conservation Center. “The Fish and Wildlife Service should be releasing captive wolves into the wild as recommended by scientists, not taking critically endangered lobos out.”

“This area is good habitat for wolves, but clearly not such a great place for livestock,” said Greta Anderson, deputy director of Western Watersheds Project. “Real conflict reduction would mean permanently closing the allotment and allowing wildlife to be wild on our public lands.”

The letter from conservation groups points out the inequity in the Service ignoring the advice of scientists and allowing wolves to scavenge on livestock carcasses, and then scapegoating wolves when they begin to prey on cattle near where they scavenged.

It is not known if those circumstances precipitated the present conflicts. But in the past, Rainy Mesa has seen repeated incidents of cattle dying from non-wolf causes and then being scavenged by wolves. Wolves then began preying on livestock and suffered the consequences.

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Idaho killed seven wolves via its “Wolf Control Program” in the remote and rugged areas of the Clearwater National Forest. The state wants to kill wolves to boost the elk population for human hunters in the Lolo Elk Management Zone.

Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) prefers to manage wolf populations using hunters and trappers and only authorizes its “control actions” where regulated killing has been insufficient to meet “management” goals. The Lolo zone is steep, rugged country that is difficult to access, especially in winter. To date, hunters and trappers have reported 18 wolves killed in the Lolo zone during the 2018-19 season.

IDFG just killed seven more. 

“Fish and Game stepped up predation management in the Lolo area through increased harvest opportunities of black bears and mountain lions. Restoring the Lolo elk population will require continued harvest of black bears, mountain lions, and wolves along with wolf control actions when needed and meaningful large-scale habitat improvements.”

History tells us, however, that the Lolo elk population dropped to historically low levels before wolves were restored to the region. So in an effort to boost elk numbers for human hunters, Idaho is scapegoating wolves and ignoring the many factors that affect elk population including human activities, weather, disease, and wildfire.

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A coalition of environmental groups yesterday sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) seeking to halt the practice of artificially feeding nearly 10,000 elk at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Although the refuge is supposed to sustain healthy populations of native wildlife, the artificial winter-time elk feeding program creates crowded conditions, with consequences that are both extensive and dangerous.

The feeding grounds are hotbeds for disease transmission, including Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a degenerative neurological illness that is similar to mad cow disease. The disease spreads rapidly among ungulate populations and poses serious disease risks to the very elk populations they aim to support and other wildlife too.

As of this year, CWD has been detected in animals in 26 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just in November, the first case in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park was confirmed in a mule deer. There is no known vaccine.

Beyond shutting down the federal and 22 state-managed feedgrounds, perhaps Wyoming should allow native predators to limit the disease. Wolves are well suited to cut the disease out of the deer, elk, and moose herds because they naturally focus on culling the weak and the sick from the herd.

Instead of recognizing the value that wolves provide, Wyoming last year doubled down on its hostile and extreme anti-wolf policies and upped its wolf kill quota for the state’s “Trophy Zone” to 58 wolves, a 32 percent increase over last year’s quota of 44.

In the other 85 percent of the state, Wyoming classifies wolves as shoot-on-sight vermin; wolves and pups can be killed any time, by almost any means, and without a license.

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