She heard the call of the wolves

IDEAS

Mexican wolves are hated, feared, and imperiled. Jean Ossorio, 75, has seen more of them than almost anyone.

By Tracy Staedter

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A devoured deer, dog-like paw prints in the mud, and fresh deposits of scat, too large to be coyote. Wolves. Jean Ossorio, a retired schoolteacher, and her husband Peter, an assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, were on the right trail.

It was the fall of 1999 and they were hiking through a remote part of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in eastern Arizona, where wolves hadn’t roamed in significant numbers for nearly 100 years. Most had been trapped, poisoned, shot, or burned alive in their dens in the early 20th century as part of an eradication effort led by the U.S. government.It didn’t take long for the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), a local species nicknamed “el lobo,” to go extinct in the wild. By 1976, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had put it on the Endangered Species list.

Jean and Peter, in their 50s at the time, still hoped to glimpse one. They knew about the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program, a collaboration between the United States and Mexico to save the species. Seven wolves had been enlisted in a program in the early 1980s and mid-1990s to breed pups and start new lines.

By 1998, 148 wolves had been reared, and the first 11 had been released into Arizona, near the very spot where Jean and Peter hiked. Four of those reintroduced wolves had been illegally shot dead within less than a year.

“We wanted to see them while there were still a few out there,” Jean told me.

Two Mexican wolves, one with only the tips of the ears showing, glimpsed near a meadow nicknamed the “Boneyard” in southeastern Arizona.

Since the recovery program began, the wolves have been at the center of a roiling controversy between people who want to save the animal from extinction and those who want it eliminated. Although the causes of these deaths are still under investigation, humans have been disproportionately implicated in the past. Between 1998 and 2017, 150 Mexican wolves died, 82 of them killed illegally, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Some were shot with a firearm or arrow or died in a trap. In 2015, one rancher trapped a 10-month old Mexican wolf pup and bludgeoned it to death with a shovel. In 2018, 17 wolves in the recovery area were found dead, the most in any single year since the reintroduction began.

Among a cohort of scientists and advocates, the urge to protect wolves is equally fierce. And for some of them, like the Ossorios, wolf encounters take on a magical quality, like a physical manifestation of a wilder human past. On that autumn afternoon in 1999, Jean and Peter followed a sloping trail down toward Campbell Blue Creek. Suddenly, from the south bank, came two woeful bellows. Jean scanned the forest and saw a Mexican wolf peering at her from behind a tree about 150 yards up a hill.

He was AM131 — AM for Adult Male, as labeled by Fish and Wildlife. At about 85 pounds, he was large for a male. He’d been paired with the female AF486, and together they’d had three pups to form what scientists dubbed the Hawk’s Nest pack. He was alone, perhaps howling for his mate. In a moment, he was gone, Peter having turned just in time to catch a blur of brownish-gray fur.

Friend or foe

That brief encounter, 20 years ago, launched a new phase in the Ossorios’ lives. They signed up for Fish and Wildlife Service status updates on the Mexican wolf recovery activities. They took wildlife tracking classes. They joined forces with advocacy groups to rally for pro-wolf legislation and push back on misinformation. They also returned over and over again to camp in Mexican wolf territory. Jean, now 75, has logged the most nights — 493, as of this writing (Peter has logged 410). Without the use of helicopters, traps, and the radio telemetry technology that scientists use to monitor pack members, Jean has recorded 56 sightings of the rare and endangered wolves — probably more, one Fish and Wildlife field coordinator told me, than any other member of the public.

I first heard of Jean in the spring of 2016, while reporting on a potential story about Mexican wolves for Seeker magazine. Several experts — from Fish and Wildlife, the Wolf Conservation Center in New York, the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project — spoke of Jean with some awe and told me to call her. “She’s seen more Mexican wolves than I have,” said wildlife biologist Dave Parsons, who led Fish and Wildlife’s effort to reintroduce the Mexican gray wolf between 1990 and 1999.

I began to conjure an image of Jean as a wizened woman full of fearless serenity. Mystical, perhaps. A wolf whisperer. But when I finally got her on the phone, I found she was merely mortal, a staunch, talkative woman with a deep love of nature and a strong desire for justice. “I’ve always been drawn to the underdog, so I suppose that’s one reason I feel a particular attachment to wolves and coyotes. They’ve been heavily persecuted for generations,” she said.

“This is the stuff of which soap operas are made.” Tweet this quote Share this quote

Jean had her first wolf encounter at age 30, when she and her parents visited a farm where wolves and a coyote were being kept under permit by wildlife artist Richard Philip Grossenheider. Jean came face-to-face with several North American gray wolves and held a coyote pup in her arms. “I became imprinted on canids,” she said.

At first, she said, she fixated on the positive stereotypes: that wolves mated for life, had an ideal family life, enlisted yearlings to help babysit the pups. But after she began following the monthly updates from the Fish and Wildlife Service, she formed a different picture.

The original Rim Pack, for instance — made of AM992 and AF858, which she and Peter once saw traveling together in January 2006 — had two pups together. But by the end of that year, the female and her offspring had left AM992 and were traveling with his brother, AM991. In April 2007, AM991 was found dead. In the meantime, AM992 was in to New Mexico, where he had joined another female to form the Dark Canyon Pack. “This is the stuff of which soap operas are made,” Jean said.

PHOTO BY ANDY BOCHMANClockwise from top left, Peter and Jean Ossorio with reporter Tracy Staedter and the Ossorios’ dog, Smokey.

By 2016, Jean’s love for the wolves had become something of a legend. So when she suggested that my partner Andy and I join her and Peter in wolf country, we jumped at the chance. We met them in late October 2016 at the Alpine Grill & Still in Alpine, Arizona, 200 miles southeast of Flagstaff. Jean was about as tall as me, five foot nine, with graying hair and round glasses. Stories poured from her like a river, meandering and with insistent forwardness. Peter, large and affable, nodded in agreement to her narratives, every now and then adding a comment or affirming her recollection.

Jean had chosen this restaurant because the owners were “wolf-friendly.” Not everyone was. Although wolf attacks on humans are extremely rare, some locals were afraid for their safety. Others feared for their livestock. In a 1996 environmental impact statement, Fish and Wildlife predicted that a population of 100 wolves would kill between one and 34 cattle per year. Ranchers who hadn’t had to deal with wolves for a century were exasperated, sometimes furious. Jean recalled a man — “one fellow,” she called him, in her typical pattern of speech — at a public hearing about the wolves back in March 2000. He was yelling at Wendy Brown, the acting Mexican wolf recovery coordinator, jabbing his finger in her direction to punctuate his words. “What are you going to do,” he shouted, “when one of YOUR wolves kills a child? Miss.” [jab] “Wendy.” [jab] “Brown.” [jab]

Fear and dead livestock were only part of the picture, Craig Miller, who works for the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife, once told me. In the presence of wolves, cattle become stressed. They lose weight and their reproduction levels drop. “If you have a large operation with 1,000 cows, the stress impact on those cattle reduces weight by 10 percent. Multiply that by market value and the numbers add up,” he said.

Wolf songs

Later at the campsite, we set up our tents and watched the sky drain indigo in the west. Jean warmed soup over a camp stove and we sat in the dark listening to her wolf stories. There was the time Jean and Peter saw three wolves waltzing past horses grazing in a field, completely ignoring them. The time they served as pen sitters for a mated pair of wolves about to be released into the wild. The morning they spotted the entire Francisco Pack after a snowfall in October 2000.

“I was stirring a pan of corned beef hash on the stove, and all of a sudden, I looked up and said — and I think these were my actual words, you know, sort of sotto voce — ‘Peter they’re here.’” The mated pair, a yearling female and four pups about five or six months old, were walking across a meadow, little ones rolling in the snow like puppies.

A few years into their camping habits, Jean began going out alone. “I know of quite a few women who have become more adventurous as they’ve aged,” she said. But if it weren’t for wolves, she may never have stepped out of her comfort zone. “The discomfort was never due to the presence of wolves or bears, or even mountain lions, but rather the possibility of encounters with unpleasant or hostile humans,” she said.

One morning in 2004, she thought she was on the verge of such an encounter. She was packing up her car when a man driving an unmarked pickup truck pulled up beside her site. He was dressed in plain clothes and had an antenna on the truck.

“Seen any wolves?” he hollered at Jean.

“I’m thinking, ‘Who the hell wants to know?’” she told us. “The problem was I’d already stuck the pistol in the car.” She glanced at her car, covered in conservation stickers, including one that read, Welcome Home Mexican Wolves.

In her pack, Jean Ossorio keeps a Rite-in-the-Rain notebook, an old Garmin e-trex GPS, a charger with extra AA batteries for the GPS, a track ruler to measure physical clues, a set of Southwestern mammal tracking cards by C. C. Hass, 10×42 Nikon binoculars, a bag of Traxtone forensic track casting material for making casts of tracks, an old measuring cup and a water bottle for adding water to the Traxtone, and her Nikon Coolpix P530 camera. On the far left is her mascot, Camo Lobo.

No, she hadn’t seen any, she told him. That’s when he identified himself as the brand-new law enforcement officer for Fish and Wildlife. Jean felt relief. Distant howling she’d heard that morning became louder and the officer used his antenna to confirm the location of the wolves, about a mile away. For two hours Jean and her new friend listened to the wolves. “He was enchanted, too.”

Andy and I crawled into our tent that night with visions of wolves. We hadn’t yet fallen asleep when, from under the dark dome of our tent, we heard the coyotes start up with their high-pitched barks and yowling. They were surprisingly close, 50 yards away at most, on the other side of the hill. A flash of anxiety passed through my chest. But then the world grew quiet, and soon another sound rose up from the trees, this one more distant than the coyotes, more dissonant.

“They’re here,” I whispered. Their melody rose out of the treetops, as languid as smoke, a communal song meant to unite the pack. To us it sounded like longing for the past.

Click to listen to the howls of a Mexican wolf

Earlier in the evening, Jean, who used to play the piano and the cello, had described wolf howls as legato, Italian for “tied together.” In sheet music, legato describes musical notes that should be played smoothly connected. Jean told us that wolf songs often included minor thirds that descended in pitch, which is what made them sound so mournful. Lying there in the dark, I understood what she meant. For several minutes, the chorus blended and diverged, and then all was silent.

We woke excited for more, but Jean tempered our anticipation. There were plenty of times, she said, that they’d come into the forest and heard nothing. It had been 18 months since they’d seen a wolf. “Those howls may have been the highlight of your trip,” she said.

If we had been anti-wolf, we could have easily scared them off. If we had rifles, we could have killed them. Tweet this quote Share this quote

After breakfast, we walked in the direction of the howls, toward a meadow nicknamed the “Boneyard.” This was high country, where ponderosa pines waded knee-deep in bunch grasses. We chatted casually until Jean interrupted herself and said she saw something move in the distance. The wheat-colored meadow was hundreds of yards away. She got out her binoculars and scanned the area. 

We moved with caution to a bend in the trail that offered a wide-open view. Indeed, they were Mexican wolves. Andy and I shared a wide-eyed glance. The last time I’d seen a wolf was in a zoo. But here they were, wild and sprawled in the grass, unaware of our exhilaration so many yards away. 

It was the Hoodoo Pack, which consisted of a collared alpha male, AM1290, his mate, AF1333, and their three offspring: a young adult, m1441, and two female pups, fp1549 and fp1550. Their fur — a mix of brown, tan, cream, and gray — merged with the meadow, making them difficult to spot. They weren’t doing anything noticeably wolf-like, like bringing down an elk, or snarling, or fighting over a carcass. In fact, they looked more like dogs out there. Sometimes one would sit on his haunches as if to guard, and then lay down again. Once, a wolf trotted into the forest’s edge and then later trotted back. It was their life, both mundane and remarkable, unmistakably vulnerable. Had we been different humans, anti-wolf ones, we could have easily scared them off. If we had rifles, we could have killed them. I couldn’t help but feel humanity’s deep responsibility for nature.

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At the time, the official count of Mexican wolves living in Arizona and New Mexico stood at 97. It wasn’t a healthy number. Although the original recovery program called for Mexican wolf communities in the U.S. to grow to 100 members, the deaths of key individuals early on resulted in a population weak in genetic diversity. As a result, almost all of the Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico today are related to each other, a problem correlated with fewer pups born per litter. Geneticist Richard Fredrickson, a member of the most recent Mexican Wolf Recovery Team, recently calculated that for the population to become genetically healthy, it would need to grow to at least 750 members. But in November 2017, Fish and Wildlife published a revision to the recovery plan, calling for an average of 320 wolves by the year 2043. Conservationists have filed a lawsuit to challenge that number. Lolling in the late morning sun, the Hoodoo Pack didn’t know what they were up against.

After an hour of watching the wolves, we began walking back to camp. Jean told Andy and me that we were extremely lucky, having not only heard the wolves, but also seen them. “You should buy a lottery ticket,” she said. Partway up the trail, I turned to look one last time down into the meadow but could no longer find them.

In the two years since Andy and I camped in wolf country, the Hoodoo Pack has maintained its territory. The young male, m1441, went on to become the alpha male of the Saffel pack. The young female, fp1550, joined with m1571 to form a new pack, the Sierra Blanca. Their sister, fp1549, was found dead in Arizona in March 2017. The mated pair, AM1290 and AF1333, have reared three new pups since then. Today, the wild population in Arizona and New Mexico stands at 114 members?. Another 30 or so live in Mexico.

“They are neither the demons of anti-wolf mythology, nor the paragons of domestic virtue of some pro-wolf fairy tales,” Jean told me. “They are animals, closely related to our companion dogs, that display complex and sometimes contradictory behavior patterns. They never fail to amaze.”

Published on January 16, 2019

Tracy Staedter is a writer based in Milwaukee.

Illustration by Erica Williams

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No Fracking!!

Water Is Almost as Precious as Oil in the Permian BasinBy Kevin Gibson on Jan 29, 2019 07:37 am

“Water is the new oil,” said Laura Capper, a Houston-based oilfield consultant. “The value of water has changed.

”The reason is fracking, a technique that helped kicked off the shale revolution a decade ago. It is the last major step to completing a well, and it is a massive consumer of water.

Ranches that can sell excess supplies get a steady revenue stream, which is having an impact on rural real estate appraisals.

Thirsty for Frack Water

U.S. water demand to blast oil-bearing shale rock has doubled since 2016

Source: Rystad Energy

Note: in billions of barrels In the Permian, America’s busiest oil patch, a producer needs to blast as much as 60,000 barrels of water into a well every day, along with sand and chemicals, to complete the fracking that cracks open the tight, oil-bearing rock about a mile underground. The process takes about 10 days.Demand for water to use in fracking in the Permian has more than doubled from 2016 levels, according to industry consultant Rystad Energy.

Demand should grow to more than 2.5 billion barrels by next year, accounting for nearly half of all U.S. oilfield needs. excerpt from Bloomberg article by David Wethe ?January? ?24?, ?2019?
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Shooting on Forest

  
Time to shut down Pat Mullen Cinder Pit

“Unregulated overuse of the Pat Mullen area near Sky Hi Retreat by shooters for well over two decades has left it in a toxic state.

“A June 2017 Risk Assessment, commissioned by the Forest Service, revealed elevated levels of lead and arsenic inside the Pat Mullen Cinder Pit. In fact, lead concentrations were as high as 32 times the ADEQ acceptable residential level.

“The Risk Assessment recommended cleanup of the contamination and closure of the pit to OHVs which stir up lead-laden dust, yet the Forest Service has done nothing to implement those specific recommendations” (Tom Hollender, OP ED. White Mountain Independent, President of the White Mountain Conservation League).

Parents, unaware of the potential danger, bring their children to the cinder pit for sledding and winter fun. 

“This lead and arsenic contaminated area has now-become a danger to public health and safety, and a concern to the many outdoor recreationists, especially-children, who use it throughout the year. Also, these contaminants can potentially leach into water tables and-wells of nearby communities, potentially poisoning people and the area’s wildlife. The Sky Hi Retreat-subdivision is just one-quarter mile away and their community wells are less than a half mile downstream-from the Pat Mullen Cinder Pit. Additionally, excess noise, trash, resource damage, and safety issues would-also be addressed by closing this “wildcat” shooting area.”

Express opinions to Ed Collins, District Ranger for the Lakeside RD, 928-368-2101 (ecollins01@fs.fed.us) and Steve Best, Forest Supervisor, Apache-Sitgreaves NF, (928-333-6280), sbest@fs.fed.us.


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White Mountain Conservation League
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Winter Fun

Winter fun abounds in Arizona’s White Mountains

Snow has fallen covering the higher country with a deep layer of snow, making all types of winter recreation available for the winter enthusiast. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding and winter camping are available in numerous areas.

No Grooming currently due to Government Shutdown

The Alpine and Springerville Ranger Districts have two areas of groomed trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The Williams Valley and Pole Knoll areas are free to the public.

The Williams Valley Non-motorized Recreation Area offers a wide variety of winter activities. It is accessed by Forest Road (FR) 249. This paved road heads west from

Hwy. 191 just north of the town of Alpine. The road heads up hill for approximately 3 miles to the Williams Valley Non-motorized Recreation Area.

Cross-country skiers can enjoy over 8 miles of groomed trails in the non-motorized area with both easy trails for beginners and more challenging trails for the experienced winter enthusiast. Some of the trails in the trees are closed since the 2011 Wallow Fire due to hazard trees and numerous downed trees. The area also boasts Toboggan Hill for sledding, tubing, tobogganing, and more with clean outhouses, a covered ramada with a barbecue grill and picnic tables. This is a wonderful place for families to spend the day sledding/skiing playing in the snow, making snow angels, building snowmen and sharing a picnic lunch in the snow.

At the far western end of the Non-motorized Recreation Area is a snowmobiling area with a large parking lot at the junction of FR 249 and FR 81. Clean outhouses are also available at this location. This separation is designed to maintain the quiet recreation opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the non-motorized area.

Pole Knoll Recreation Area located near Greer, AZ  has groomed trails for the cross-country skier and snowshoeing opportunities in deep powder. This area is located on Hwy. 260 approximately 2.5 miles west of the Greer Junction (Hwy. 373). This area is predominately on the north slope of Pole Knoll with over 15 miles of trails. There is deep snow and numerous trails for beginning to advanced cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Those who make it to the top of Pole Knoll are rewarded with breathtaking views. The expanse of the Colorado Plateau can be seen to the north. To the south numerous mountain ranges fill the horizon. The closest is Mt. Baldy with the white slopes of the Sunrise Park Resort Ski area; to the southeast is Escudilla Mountain and beyond are the Mogollon Mountains in New Mexico. There are clean outhouses, three covered ramadas with picnic tables and barbeque grills.

Hannagan Meadow Lodge located 22 miles south of Alpine on Hwy. 191 also has trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing with large open meadows for winter exploration across the highway from the lodge. The trails are typically not groomed. Six miles south of the Hannagan Meadow Lodge at the junction of FR 25 with Hwy. 191 is an excellent cross-country ski and snowshoe area. This area allows the winter enthusiast to explore west of the highway along Forest Service roads or in adjacent meadows.  ADOT typically plows a convenient pullout for parking at the junction of Hwy. 191 and FR 25.

Hwy. 273 past Sunrise Park Resort located approximately 2 miles past the Sunrise Park Resort turnoff on Hwy. 273. Arizona Department of Transportation closes the road at this point with a closed gate, a berm of snow and signage. This area typically gets a great deal of snow due to its proximity to the Sunrise Park Resort downhill ski area. At this location, there is a large parking area, ramadas, and outhouses. Non-motorized enthusiasts can cross-country ski and snowshoe on the west side of the highway. Cross-country skiers and snowshoers can explore the open meadows along the tree line south towards Hall Creek or venture into the trees on old logging roads and create a nice loop.

On the east side of the highway is a snowmobile area in the open meadows. This separation is designed to maintain the quiet recreation opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on the west side of the highway in the non-motorized area.

All of these areas are along plowed roads and are easy to access after the winter storms have cleared and roads are plowed. Check weather and road conditions before heading out to enjoy winter in the White Mountains of Arizona. For current road conditions go to:   http://az511.gov/traffic/ 

Remember winter travel can be dangerous. Be prepared. Bring extra warm clothing, sleeping bags, blankets, food, water and a shovel.

Call or e-mail Tom Hollender for updated snow information and current conditions throughout the region. Cell  928-245-7787    twhollender@gmail.com

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Highway Cleanup – And Celebration of Liz Wise

The White Mountain Conservation League would like to dedicate this clean up to the memory of Liz Wise, who showed up at about 95% of our cleanups since we started 25 years ago.

Meet at mile marker 394 on highway 260, 4 miles east of McNary at 10:30 AM on November 9th

 

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Clean Air Arizona

Huge news!!! Arizonans officially have the chance to take back our power and choose a clean energy future for our state. APS spent your money on a desperate lawsuit to deny Arizonans the right to choose more clean energy — and they just lost. It’s time to take advantage of our biggest untapped resource — the sun!

So far, APS has spent over $11 million of their own customers’ money to keep us off the ballot and put their own profits above our health. Despite APS’s dirty tactics, the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona campaign turned in hundreds of thousands of signatures, and last week the Arizona Secretary of State certified Proposition 127 to the ballot.

First APS said we weren’t going to collect enough signatures.

Then APS said our signatures were bad.

And APS even went to court, spending their customers’ money on expensive lawyers to try and stop Arizonans from having the opportunity to have a say over our power.

It’s clear APS will say and do anything to keep Arizonans from voting on Prop 127, but with supporters like you, nothing can stop us.

Will you help us talk to your neighbors about Prop 127?

We’re organizing our first big canvass to knock on voters’ doors and talk to them about voting Yes on Prop 127!

It’s time to make the sun work for us. Please join us on Saturday, September 8th to help us let voters know that right now only 6% of our electricity comes the sun — but their votes can change that in November!

Sign up to volunteer today!

Please make sure to share the link to our Saturday, September 8 canvass with your members on social media – http://bit.ly/CleanEnergyCanvass

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No Fracking in Northern Arizona

No Fracking AZ is a local (Navajo/Apache counties), grassroots effort aimed at halting the development of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations in Northern Arizona. We are entirely unpaid volunteers, from diverse backgrounds: we are homemakers, tradespeople, professionals, environmentalists and retirees. What we have in common is that we understand the real threat that fracking poses to our water, our land, and our way of life.
The news is full of stories of developers’ promises of economic development, followed by dire consequences. Communities and individuals throughout the United States have had their lives torn apart by illnesses, plummeting property values, and ruined water supplies. If you are wondering what you can do to help, please read our petition *here*.  It is a start.  If you would like to volunteer, please click Contact in the menu bar and let us know.
We need to stand up soon against corporate interests that are poised to change the character of our region. Once the fracking has begun, remediation of any problems will be like picking the pepper out of your mashed potatoes. We hope that you will join us in this struggle. Please fill out our contact form if you are willing to help, or have contacts that could assist us! We will also gratefully accept your donations; as a not-for-profit organization, each dollar you are able to send will have a direct and meaningful impact. Thank you for helping keep Arizona beautiful, safe, and frack-free!

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Sham Recovery Plan–Designed for Extinction

For Immediate Release, July 14, 2017
Contact: Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity, (575) 313-7017, michaelr@biologicaldiversity.org

Mary Katherine Ray, Sierra Club, (575) 772-5655, mkrscrim@gmail.com

Kelly Nokes, WildEarth Guardians, (406) 209-9545, knokes@wildearthguardians.org

Hailey Hawkins, Endangered Species Coalition, (662) 251-5804, hhawkins@endangered.org

Bryan Bird, Defenders of Wildlife, (505) 501-4488, bbird@defenders.org

Letter Urges Release of Endangered Mexican Gray Wolves Into Wild

Faltering Southwestern Wolves’ Gene Pool Needs Bolstering
SILVER CITY, N.M.— Thirty-one conservation and wolf-protection organizations in the Southwest and nationwide sent a letter today urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expeditiously release endangered Mexican gray wolves to the wild.

Adding new wolves from captivity to the struggling wild population is vital to diversifying the gene pool of the 113 closely related wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico, the letter noted.

“Inbreeding could push the Mexican wolf over the cliff toward extinction if the Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t release captive wolves soon,” said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The trail forward for successful recovery gets steeper and narrower every day that wolf families are kept behind wire mesh, when they could be helping fix the genetic crisis in the wild.”
Two specific packs should be freed this month, according to recommendations from a federal and state interagency Mexican wolf team. The team advised that releases occur in June or July after elk calves are born “to facilitate natural hunting behavior.” Conservationists want to ensure those wolves are not sequestered indefinitely in pens, as wolf families have been in previous years after release plans were shelved. Today’s letter recommends specific animals and release locations in southern New Mexico.

“The continued survival of the lobo has been jeopardized by agency inaction,” said Mary Katherine Ray, wildlife chair for the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club. “We stand at the precipice of losing our small Southwest wolf forever, a tragedy for nature and a moral failing of our own human species.”
“Wolves belong in the wild,” said Kelly Nokes, carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Critically imperiled lobos should not be held in a state of perpetual captivity as a result of political pettiness. We call on the Service to put science and the law first, and release these genetically valuable wolves to their native southwestern homelands now.”

The conservationists requested that other wolves also be released, including a single female from Mexico, christened “Sonora” by schoolchildren in a naming contest, who was captured after crossing the border into Arizona in March. Freeing her in the United States to breed with wolves here would follow guidelines in the new draft Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan that calls for “translocations” of wolves between U.S. and Mexico populations to enhance both populations’ genetics.
“People all over the Southwest, including Utah and Colorado, are rooting for the Mexican gray wolf,” said Hailey Hawkins, southern Rockies representative of the Endangered Species Coalition. “Mexican wolves are one of our rarest mammals and treasured not just for their charisma but for their countless contributions to a healthy ecosystem. Folks want to see the Mexican wolf thrive, not just barely hang on like they have been for the last two decades. Federal management should reflect that.”

The interagency wolf team also proposed “cross-fostering” as many as 10 captive-born wolf pups into up to five wild wolf dens this spring. However, just four captive-born pups were implanted into only two dens, and four wild-born pups were removed from those dens and placed in captivity, which the field team did not advise (or even contemplate) as it sought an increase in wolf numbers.

“If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service releases more wolves, lobos will have a better chance at beating the clock on extinction,” said Bryan Bird, Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “With more wolf releases, their low numbers and limited genetic diversity will also improve. Wolves can restore the balance. When lobos roam safely on the landscape, they can bring our Southwestern ecosystems back to life.”

The game departments of Arizona and New Mexico, governed by commissions with appointees from the livestock and hunting-outfitting industries, have opposed releases of wolves. The Fish and Wildlife Service has been reluctant to buck state opposition.

Background

Mexican gray wolves are the smallest and rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America. Federal trapping and poisoning of wolves on behalf of the livestock industry in the 20th century reduced Mexican wolves to just seven animals that, after passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, were caught and successfully bred in captivity.

Some of their descendants were reintroduced into Arizona and New Mexico starting in 1998 and into northern Mexico in 2011. But due to ongoing federal trapping and shooting, and the infrequency of wolf releases from captivity, numbers in the U.S. have lagged below projections. They are so closely related now that, on average, each wolf is as genetically similar to every other wolf in the population as if they were siblings.
Scientists have urged resumption of stalled wolf releases in the United States, less heavy-handed management — meaning less killing — and establishing additional populations in northern New Mexico and Arizona and southern Utah and Colorado.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, in contrast, drafted a recovery plan that gives the states veto power over wolf releases and allows for the removal of federal protections while the species is still biologically imperiled. The draft recovery plan is currently open for public comment until August 29.

Michael J. Robinson
Center for Biological Diversity
P.O. Box 1727
Silver City, NM 88062

(575) 313-7017

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Arizona Wildlife Federation Meeting–Sipe

Arizona Wildlife Federation’s 94th Annual Meeting – June 3, 2017
Please join us for the annual meeting of the Arizona Wildlife Federation to be held at Sipes White Mountain Wildlife Center. Registration can be made by contacting Kimberlee Kreuzer at mailto: awf@azwildlife.org or by calling 480-644-0077.

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Walk in the Woods

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