This fall, for the second time, the New Mexico Game and Fish Commission rejected a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to release two adult Mexican wolves with pups, and up to 10 captive-born wolf pups, into the Mexican Wolf Recovery Area in southern Arizona and New Mexico.
An important part of the release, which was planned for next spring, involved fostering the 10 motherless pups with wild wolves that came from packs with good track records of preying on elk, not cattle. The larger goal was to increase the genetic diversity of the 110 Mexican wolves now in the wild, a subspecies smaller and lighter than the northern gray wolf and uniquely adapted to the Southwest.
The federal agency has made it clear: The clock is ticking for the Mexican wolf. When packs have too many genetically similar wolves, it doesn't bode well for their survival. But the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has also made it clear that it will continue to thwart wolf reintroduction in New Mexico, even though the reintroduction is mandated by federal law and supported by a majority of citizens. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now has to decide whether to go ahead with wolf reintroduction against the state agency's wishes.
Loss of biodiversity often seems to be collateral damage from basic human activities such as growing crops, mining ore, or building houses. But there are also targeted losses like this one -- and they are instructive.
In the 1980s, some New Mexico citizens began a movement to return the wolf to their public lands. The animal had been vigorously -- one might say hysterically – poisoned, trapped and finally exterminated.
So in 1998, 11 wolves born and raised in captivity were radio-collared and released in a recovery area of over 4.4 million acres. This strategy worked. The animals quickly readapted; they formed packs, bred, hunted and howled. They were home again.
But some of the people living closest to those public lands have been reducing the wolf population by shooting them. They build unnecessary wooden enclosures to "protect" their children waiting for school buses on roads and highways. They put up billboards next to gas stations and rural post offices that warn, "Beware! Wolves Nearby! Keep Kids and Pets Close!"