SILVER CITY, N.M.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today again delayed releasing a pack of eight wolves — badly needed to bolster the dwindling number of Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest — into the Arizona wild. The Engineer Springs pack would infuse new genetics into a wolf population suffering from inbreeding.
The decision is a capitulation to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, which has held up release of these wolves throughout 2010 and meanwhile has demanded resumption of federal trapping and shooting of wolves that prey on livestock.
“Continuing to postpone this wolf family’s release casts fresh doubts on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s commitment to recovering this highly endangered and iconic animal of the Southwest,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The delay announced today demonstrates that the Arizona Game and Fish Department, working at the behest of the livestock industry, still wields veto power over the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and trumps the views of scientists.”
In December 2009, the Center and other conservation groups settled a lawsuit with Fish and Wildlife in which the federal agency acknowledged that a consortium of agencies led by Arizona Game and Fish had no authority over the federal reintroduction program.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service should honor its settlement agreement and make decisions based on what scientists think is best for this wolf population, not the political resistance of Arizona Game and Fish,” said Robinson.
The Mexican wolf population has declined or stayed stagnant for four years. Just 42 animals were counted in the wild in a survey in January, which was a 19-percent decline from the year before. A new count will be conducted in January 2011.
Only one Mexican wolf has been released into the wild from the captive-breeding program, without having previously been removed from the wild, over the past four years. That was in November 2008.