The following editorial was written by Arizona Game and Fish Commission Chairman Robert Mansell and distributed to the Arizona Republic as a follow-up to media coverage of the recent Mexican wolf population count results that show an increase in the number of wolves in Arizona and New Mexico.
Arizona-(Ammoland.com)- At Arizona Game and Fish Commission meetings, we frequently hear public comments about how the commission’s actions will lead to the “second extinction” of the Mexican wolf.
But, with the recent announcement that the Arizona-New Mexico wolf population grew by 31 percent last year, isn’t it time for naysayers and everyone interested in Mexican wolf recovery to recognize the program’s success?
The latest population survey shows at least 109 Mexican wolves in the wild and a record 38 pups that survived through year’s-end. Those figures and the continued upward trajectory of the population over the past several years strongly refute the notion that the subspecies is heading for extinction.
Prior to 1998, Mexican wolves were absent from Arizona’s landscape. In 1998, 11 wolves were released. In 2010, there were 50. Today, there are at least 109 wolves in Arizona-New Mexico. That is double the population in five years. So, where there once were none, today there are 109. We expect this upward trend to continue for Mexican wolves. There is still work to do especially in creating social tolerance for the presence of wolves among those who live, work and recreate on the same lands where wolves live. We continue to work with stakeholders to achieve acceptance and balance.
Our biologists, who manage wildlife based on science, expected this more rapid growth to occur as the percentage of wild-born wolves increased. When the majority of a reestablished wolf population is wild-born, survival rates increase and populations grow exponentially. We’ve now achieved the reintroduction project’s original objective of 100 wolves with a population that is 100 percent wild born.
The value of having the Mexican wolf designated as a 10(j) non-essential, experimental population under the Endangered Species Act cannot be overlooked. This designation gives the field team the flexibility to try new methods like last year’s successful cross-fostering of pups from a genetically-valuable pack with little experience raising young to placing pups with an experienced pack. New techniques like this provide an important means for bolstering the wolf population and increasing genetic diversity.
The Mexican wolf’s future is bright. Reestablishing a self-sustaining population in the Southwest is well under way thanks to the flexibility provided by the 10(j) designation and a dedicated group of partners that worked tirelessly to develop a framework for the Cooperators’ Alternative, which embodies the key elements of the new 10(j) rule. Full recovery though can only be accomplished when the Mexican wolf is recovered in Mexico where 90 percent of their historic habitat occurs.
Although we have heard public comment to the contrary, the newly revised 10(j) rule guiding Mexican wolf recovery is a major step in the right direction. It will allow wolves to disperse and occupy vastly greater territory with a link to populations in Mexico and grow to a self-sustaining population of 300-325 wolves while also ensuring that impacts to other wildlife like ungulates are managed. These values and measures are clear and positive steps towards real Mexican wolf recovery.