The Gray Wolf is an endangered species in the United States. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Friday, 10 Aug 2012ALBUQUERQUE (AP) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed an order Thursday calling for the shooting of a female Mexican gray wolf that was accused of killing too many cows in southwestern New Mexico.
This marks the first time since 2007 that the agency was taking the step to kill an endangered wolf due to livestock problems.
The order calls for shooting the Fox Mountain Pack's alpha female.
Wolf Recovery Coordinator Sherry Barrett said it was a difficult decision given that the population of endangered wolves in New Mexico and Arizona has been struggling since reintroduction began 14 years ago.
"Our goal is to recover the population and to grow this particular population, but we also recognize the need to address these depredations so that we have a successful reintroduction program," she said.
The rancher who lost cattle to the Fox Mountain Pack was compensated for his losses, but Barrett did not know how much he was paid through the government's reimbursement program. Barrett also declined to release the name of the rancher.
Wolf supporters were upset with the decision. They cited concerns about the ability of the pack's pups to survive without their mother and the limited opportunity for the pack's male to find another mate.
"This is a terrible decision. It just doesn't make sense to kill her," said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that has been critical of wolf management.
Daniel Patterson of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility accused the federal government of encouraging a welfare ranching policy through its actions. He also pointed out that the program has not released into the wild any new wolves in nearly four years.
A subspecies of the gray wolf, the Mexican wolf once roamed parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Mexico. Hunting and government-sponsored extermination campaigns all but wiped out the predator. It was added to the federal endangered species list in 1976, and a captive-breeding program was started.
The first batch of wolves was released in May 1998, and at least 58 wolves remain in the wild along the New Mexico-Arizona border. Biologists estimate there are 14 packs among the two states.
Aside from political setbacks, illegal shootings and courtroom battles, genetic diversity has been a problem for the program. Biologists say inbreeding can result in smaller litter sizes and higher pup mortality rates.
Barrett said the Fox Mountain alpha female and male are cousins so the female is not considered as genetically valuable as other wolves that have been allowed to stay in the wild despite livestock problems.
Still, the order acknowledges that the pack "remains important to achieving population goals."
Barrett said the pack's pups are old enough to survive without their mother with the help of the alpha male and a yearling that has been tagging along with the pack.
The agency tried hazing, range riders were hired to scare the wolves away and feeding was done in an attempt to lure the wolves away from the cattle. Barrett said nothing worked.
Four cattle deaths linked to the pack happened outside the wolf recovery boundaries within the last four months, with the most recent one being reported Aug. 1. There were also two other cases last summer.