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Coyotes Need ESA Protections To Save Wolves

Coyote 1 7 Butler Wide Credit

Beyond the idea of protecting animals for general conservation sake, which is always a worthy reason, there are actually several practical reasons why coyotes deserve ESA protection along with wolves in the American Southwest. That’s why the WCC joined several other conservation groups this week and submitted a formal “similarity of appearance” Endangered Species Act petition. Fourteen conservation groups are urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide better federal protections for Mexican gray wolves by listing its look-alike species, the coyote, within the wolves’ recovery area.

Mistaken Identity

Illegal wolf killing is the leading cause of death for the gravely endangered Mexican gray wolf. One of the leading excuses and legal loopholes used when a Mexican gray wolf is killed is that it was mistaken for a coyote, which are legal to kill in Arizona and New Mexico. Deputy director of Western Watersheds Project Greta Anderson sums up the collective petition perfectly with her statement: “If people are going to confuse Mexican wolves for coyotes, then it makes sense to stop killing coyotes in the areas where wolves are recovering…if it’s that hard to really distinguish between the species, both should be protected by the Endangered Species Act for the sake of the rare Mexican wolf.” 

This mistaken identity clause, codified by the so-called DOJ “McKittrick Policy” states that officials can only prosecute cases for the illegal killing of ESA-protected species when it can prove that the killer specifically intended to kill an endangered species. This collaborative petition seeks to clear up the issue entirely, by protecting both coyotes and wolves in the essential stomping grounds for the rebuilding Mexican gray wolf population, which were still considered an extinct species in the wild until 1998 when they began to be reintroduced in Arizona and New Mexico. While there has been some steady progress, their numbers still hover below 200 total wild wolves as of the end of 2021. 

A History of Misuse

The petition puts forward several pieces of evidence that Mexican wolves have been killed in numerous cases by people who believed, or at least claimed to believe, they were killing a coyote. There are several circumstances that call into question the legitimacy of some of those claims, but since it is impossible to prove intent in these cases, perhaps it’s best if we just stop killing canids altogether. Michael Lute, PhD in wild canid conservation and carnivore conservation director for Project Coyote puts it best: “Native wild canids, whether they are Mexican gray wolves or coyotes are essential to ecosystems and neither need lethal management. Protecting both species makes pragmatic ecological and ethical sense.”

Want To Get Involved?

While this petition is already leveraged by several leading conservation groups, you can make your voice heard as well. Join the Wolf Conservation Center’s Action Center to get all the latest updates on how you can directly impact the future of wolves in North America. Right now we’re urging the Biden admin to enact an emergency listing of wolves in the Northern Rockies. Make your voice heard today!