Only 42 Mexican wolves!

This was contributed by “TallTrent” on “Have you run across any interesting news?”

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On December 28,  I posted an article about the status of Mexican wolves that was pessimistic, but some folks from the area commented that things were looking up.  This story casts doubt on that.

Mexican wolf population dipping. “Officials say total from last year was down nearly 20%.” Tony Davis and Tim Steller. Arizona Daily Star.

Almost all the pups in 2009 ended up dead, and it was an unusually large and hopeful number of pups. I don’t know if it was disease, but the Mexican wolf population is one that is clearly in or close to a genetic bottleneck. High pup mortality is often one result of this.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

38 Responses to Mexican wolf population dipping

  1. avatar Jon Way says:

    Mexican wolves need another separate population. Obviously there are many problems in the current recovery area effecting overall #s. I vote for Grand Canyon National Park as a second release site. It is a national park in which restoring wildlife is one of its mandates, and it will likely help the population greatly. For one, it (the core pop.) will be in a much more protected and thus secure area with probably less vocal resistance than in the Blue….

  2. avatar vielfrass says:

    Is that good habitat Jon? I would also like to see them in the sky islands further south. My concern would be that the ranchers would not be tolerant.

  3. I am not an expert on the history of Mexican Wolves, but after visiting the area around Alpine, Arizona last year at this time, I am not so sure that is the right place to have released them. I saw lots of elk, but I think that expecting the small-sized Mexican Wolves to successfully prey on elk year in and year out is wishful thinking. The Arizona Fish and Game was supplementing the Mexican Wolves’ diet by bringing them road-killed animals and they still can’t seem to make it. I have observed and photographed Mexican Wolves at the Desert Museum near Tucson on several occasions and they just don’t appear to have the size to consistently succeed in preying on adult-sized elk. I have watched elk in Yellowstone easily chase coyotes away and have seen adult elk intimidate even the larger Gray Wolves. I would like to have someone show me Mexican Wolves actually bringing adult elk down. I think they need an area that has a lot of deer, which would be easier for them to kill.

  4. Are elk relatively new to the area where the Mexican wolves were released. Was it originally a deer only area as far as cervids go?

    Does anyone have this information?

  5. avatar JEFF E says:

    damn those people for reintroducing a native species.

    8*}

  6. avatar Salle says:

    I could only access the abstract but it may be worth looking at:

    http://www.jstor.org/pss/3784478

    It’s a study of a critical view on claims of elk in Mexico. The authors, in the abstract, conclude that the southernmost locations of elk were Arizona and New Mexico.

    That being said, I think it was possibly in a text by Paul Schullary (Searching For Yellowstone – book) that elk were effectively wiped out in the 19th century, in the US, and that the majority of elk populations that are now established in the US are restored from stock provided by YNP populations. I’ll look for further info on that, I don’t have the book at my present location, it’s at home in my library.

  7. avatar Salle says:

    Jeff E’s citations are better than my offering!! Didn’t see them until I had posted my comment.

    I did look up the info on Mexican Gray’s diet and found about the same thing on both Wikkipedia and Defenders’ web sites. Since they are smaller than other wolves, it would be understandable that elk would pose more than a small challenge when locating and catching prey.

    I copied this from Defenders’ web site:

    Fast Facts

    Height: 26-32 inches at the shoulder.
    Length: 4.5-5.5 feet from nose to tip of tail.
    Weight: 60-80 lbs; Males are typically heavier and taller than the females.

    Diet

    Mexican wolves mostly eat ungulates (large hoofed mammals) like white-tailed deer, mule deer and elk. They are also known to eat smaller mammals like javelinas (wild pigs), rabbits, ground squirrels and mice.

  8. avatar JEFF E says:

    I’m thinking that as far as elk the Mexican wolf acted more in a scavenger role, with deer, javelin, etc more of a primary food source.

  9. Check out http://www.mexicanwolves.org for a lot of info about historic range, prey base, current news, how to get involved, etc.

    The low 2009 number is an outrage- a combination of criminal activity and long-term program mismanagement. We’ve posted a little more on our own blog and will update there soon.

  10. avatar Chris Harbin says:

    The main reason(s) the population is down is due to incredibly poor management, a lot of illegal killings, a lot of 3 strikes (or less) killings, and wolves that had been released that were put back into captivity. The AMOC, Adaptive Management Oversight Committee, is it seems a tool of the ranching community.

    As far as an alternate release site, the Grand Canyon region is a good one – particularly the North Kaibab. The Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery group has 4 different feasibility studies on the area if anyone is interested
    http://www.gcwolfrecovery.org

    Ralph, I lived in the park back in the 80’s and at that time mule deer were prevalent. However, the last few times I have been back all I saw was elk. As far as Mexican Wolves preying on elk, that was one of the surprises of the reintroduction into the Blue Range. A large portion of the wolves diet came from elk.

  11. avatar Chris Harbin says:

    Hopefully Maska will weigh in here with some wisdom!

  12. Yes- Maska can probably give us a few more details.

    In the meantime, the feds have not removed any wolves for violating the (now defunct) three-strikes rule in two years. AMOC has been disbanded due to a settlement agreement with the conservationists. So, though we wanted to clarify that three-strikes and AMOC are not currently influencing species declines, they are both responsible for the long-term problems in the program- namely, the removal of genetically valuable wolves to appease the livestock industry.

    The illegal killings must be stopped- there is quite a bit ofreward money out there ($52K) which must be mighty tempting to someone who knows something. The criminals who kill wolves are robbing from future generations.

  13. avatar Jeff says:

    From what I have read over the years lobos seem to be hunting fine, whether it be elk, deer, or javelina. I believe the problem lies with poaching, too restrictive release rules, artifical boundaries and alas genetics. A few years back the USFWS released a few female Texas cougars in south Florida with good results. I’ve always wished they could capture and release a few of the smaller wolves from ID and WY with traits comparable to lobos in AZ and NM.

  14. avatar Jon Way says:

    I agree with Larry’s comments. A smaller canid (Mexican wolf vs. Rocky Mtn area wolf) would likely do better on a deer based diet even if they do eat elk in their current range.
    It seems obvious though that human killings are more important to avoid than what prey they eat so that is why I think that Grand Canyon is perfect. Even if not the most ideal habitat for them, they are protected from people’s guns more than in most areas of the SW.

  15. I think that Gray Wolves should be released in areas with large elk populations. They have increased dramatically in Idaho and the Yellowstone area after just releasing small numbers. The high elevation elk habitat of Arizona and New Mexico appears to me, to be better suited for Gray Wolves.

    The Mexican Wolf Project has released large numbers of Mexican Wolves into elk habitat with little to show for it. The numbers speak for themselves.
    Allowing the Mexican Wolves to naturally migrate out of the area and find their own niche might make more sense. Restricting them to the recovery area does not seem to be working.
    Osborne Russell writes of seeing three types of “Wolves” in his Journal. Coyotes fit the description of one type. The other two sound like Gray and Mexican Wolves.
    His recorded travels reached just south of Salt Lake. Mexican Wolves and Gray Wolves must have co-existed and occupied parts of the same range that Russell trapped in.

  16. avatar Jeff says:

    Lobos are gray wolves—the southern sub-species but the same genus and species if I’m correct.

  17. avatar Jon Way says:

    Larry,
    wolves have also done great in the Great Lakes States in the past 20-30 yr with a diet of predominantly deer so I think they will do good anywhere in the SW that people just leave them alone and let them be wolves, incl. allowing dispersal mvmts as you suggest.

  18. avatar bryantolsen says:

    Mexican Wolves are a smaller race of the Grey Wolf(Canis lupus baileyi). Originally native to the Sierra Madre in Mexico, they only occasionally strayed into the USA. The original Wolves of the Southwest were of the larger “Plains” Wolf(Canis lupus nubilis) which could reach 120lbs,although some populations may have been intermediate between the two. The native Elk of the Southwest was the Merriam’s Elk, actually larger than the Rocky Mountain Elk,getting up to 1,200lbs,but I don’t think they were in Mexico. The scrub pine forest of northern Mexico were very different habitat than the southwest sky islands,which are more like the Rocky Mountains. That all being said, they seem to be adapting to their prey, the problem lies in poaching and intolerance among people, and a lack of a truly wild landscape for them to roam. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is mostly on National Forest land, and pretty heavily grazed by cattle in summer. Most of the National Park in not especially great habitat, being cliffs and such,although it is a big chunk of land for them to roam. Great book to read all about them is ‘The Wolf in the Southwest: The Making of an Endangered Species’ by David E. Brown.

  19. Bryant,

    You say a lack of a truly wild landscape is a problem for the Mexican gray wolves. However, 4.2 million acres of the 4.4 million acre Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area are uninhabited by humans. It includes the Aldo Leopold and Gila Wilderness Areas and over 2 million acres are roadless. Sounds pretty wild to us.

  20. avatar ProWolf in WY says:

    It is necessary for more Mexican wolves to be released into other areas in the Southwest. I’m not familiar with the region but I have read plenty on the Grand Canyon’s suitability. The elk that inhabited the Southwest were the now-extinct Merriam’s subspecies. There is not a whole lot of information available about them. Considering that animals in warmer climates are often smaller than those in cold climates, I would think you could assume that the Merriam’s elk was a small subspecies so maybe the wolves had evolved to hunt a smaller elk. I would probably agree with Larry that maybe the wolves should be released into an area where deer would be the primary prey item.

  21. avatar ProWolf in WY says:

    Bryant, I should have read your post before I wrote. The idea of an intermediate subspecies is interesting to me. I would be curious if that was what would have existed in areas like northern New Mexico. Do you know if studies have been done on that?

  22. avatar cc says:

    The struggles of the Mexican wolf recovery program have nothing to do with elk.

    “(8) Comment: Mexican wolves can’t kill elk. Response: Mexican wolves have been documented to be involved in the death of 101 elk, 5 deer, and 2 bighorn sheep through the course of the project. Although the Environmental Impact Statement suggested that deer would be the primary prey for Mexican wolves, it appears that wolves are principally killing and feeding upon elk. The first Mexican wolves were released in 1998 and successfully preyed upon elk within six weeks of release. Monitoring by the IFT and independent researchers has demonstrated that wolves prey upon all sex and age classes of elk, and
    therefore are fully capable of killing live elk when necessary”
    source: http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/mexicanwolf/pdf/MWPF06-01.pdf

    The Grand Canyon eco-region is not as good a spot for Mexican wolves as some have suggested. The primary habitat would be on National Forest lands which are used by free-ranging cattle. To those still unconvinced that Mexican wolves can’t subsist on elk, there’s more elk than deer there too. The wolves would not stay in the recovery area nor stay off private and tribal lands. In other words, it would be a repeat of the Blue Range recovery area. Same agencies, same management, same opposition=same problems.

    The Grand Canyon is not a fix and elk are not a problem, they are both distractions from maintaining focus on the managerial and political problems of the current reintroduction.

  23. avatar Carl says:

    Having just visited the Grand Canyon I agree totally with what CC stated above. The Park is a little over 1.2 million acres in size but it is very narrow in places. It is very likely that wolf territories would overlap on to the Kaibab National Forest or tribal lands. I observed a fair amount of livestock grazing on tribal lands that appear to be heavily over grazed. Although I saw no livestock on the Forest Service lands there was plenty of evidence that it to is used for livestock grazing. Within the National Park so much of the acreage is steep, unvegetated land that I think wolves would have very large territories just to survive. I doubt that the Park alone could support many packs.

  24. Regarding the poor genetics of the Mexican wolf, and other species in a genetic bottleneck, I think it might soon be possible to increase genetic diversity artificially.

    This would be done by determining which genes are critical in making the Mexican wolf (or some other plant of animal) different than a similar species, such as the gray wolf.

    In a laboratory the genes from the gray wolf could be inserted into the ovum except for the critical genes that make it a Mexican wolf. Then you would have one new Mexican wolf that is free of the recessive genetic defects that have emerged from inbreeding.

    Obviously this will raise philosophical issues, assuming it can even be done.

  25. avatar Jon says:

    Ralph, I was wondering if sometime in the future, you can make a section where people can post very good articles on wolves. I have some good articles I would like to post.

  26. Jon,

    Maybe, although last week we created a place where people can post their links, write an essay or whatever.

    If you want you write a regular post, let me know.

  27. avatar Kropotkin Man says:

    A little late but…

    If folks would stop killing wolves in the release/ reintroduction sites they would more than likely move north and recolonize the Kaibab and Coconino NFs.
    I feel that efforts should be directed at stopping the criminals that are slaughtering these animals. I find it hard to believe that they can’t locate these people and prosecute them. There have simply been too many kills for too many years. The region is not that populated, someone has got to be talking.

    The South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is a very narrow sliver of land and in and of itself wouldn’t support a population of wolves in any numbers. There are muleys, pronghorn, bighorn and elk that utilize the park and would serve as prey. Javalina are moving north as well.

    There are way too many elk being grown in northern Arizona. They provide big money for the region. The AZGF and USFS keep installing guzzlers and other water sources to aid in supporting these artificially high numbers. The elk are hammering the South Rim of the Park. There is, historically, no evidence that elk were here in any great numbers. 25-30years ago, one rarely saw elk north of the San Francisco Peaks. Now the hunters gather round water- holes just outside the Park boundary. There are no natural sources of water. It’s like shooting the bison walking out of YNP. The Fed’s grow them and the State slaughters them.

    Recruitment of wolves is the key.

  28. avatar Chris Harbin says:

    Regarding the status of lands outside GCNP proper:
    The allotments on the North Kaibab are owned by the Grand Canyon Trust. While they have to graze some cattle to abide by the terms of the contract, I would think they would be amenable to a wolf reintroduction. This includes land from House Rock Valley on the East to Kanab Creek in the West.
    Most of the the South Rim is run by Babbitt Ranches. I think Bruce Babbitt would have a difficult time explaining why his family would not work with a wolf reintroduction project.
    Nonetheless, I think it’s hard to imagine any place where wild animals are not in a de-facto zoo. None of the original Mexican Wolf Release Areas ( White Sands, Blue Range, sky Islands) have a truly safe wildlife corridor to the other.
    Unless we we are willing forgo the species, and others by writing these areas off do to human occupation and lack of tolerance, then we will have to do some heavy management. That is to say management without guns, traps and poison.

  29. avatar Maska says:

    Sorry to be so slow to respond to Chris and Demarcated Landscapes, but I’ve been away and had computer issues recently.

    At this point it seems to me that we don’t have sufficient information on what happened to specific packs, particularly in terms of pup survival, to draw any conclusions beyond those mentioned above. Certainly both illegal killing of wolves and excessive management removals prior to 2008 (particularly in 2007, when wolf managers removed or effectively destroyed three packs in New Mexico–all three with multiple pups) set the stage for some of the current problems.

    There are also two packs in New Mexico, where numbers are down 50% from 2008 end-of-year figures, that have had major impediments to reproductive success this year. The Middle Fork pack alpha animals both had suffered the loss of a leg to injury–one to illegal shooting, and the other to a private leghold trap–prior to the beginning of the breeding season. This pair produced four confirmed pups this year, but so far we’ve seen no information on their status at the end of the year.

    Also, the San Mateo pair had a total of six pups. During a time when this pack was being monitored intensively due to depredations, the female moved her den. In the aftermath of this move, three pups died and two were removed to captivity. The pack entered the summer season with only a single pup left in the wild. Conservation organizations have asked for an investigation of this incident.

    Two other packs in New Mexico did not breed this year, and a fifth pair may have done so, but there’s no public information at this point on whether they were successful. Once we learn which pairs were the two “breeding pairs (i.e. which pairs had two living alphas and at least two living pups on December 31),” we’ll be able to speculate more intelligently on the causes of the drastic drop in population.

  30. avatar Jeff says:

    Maybe an infusion of genetics will happen sooner without our help…
    http://www.hcn.org/issues/42.3/prodigal-dogs?utm_source=wolves10&utm_medium=email

  31. avatar cc says:

    If the wild Mexican wolf population needs a genetic boost then the best way to do so would be to follow the lead of America’s first wolf reintroduction program. The USFWS has been successfully placing red wolf pups born in captivity at accredited zoos and into wild litters in their North Carolina recovery area. This boosts the genetics of the wild population and gives the pups a better chance at survival than releasing captive raised wolves since the pups will be raised in the wild by wild wolves.

    40 zoos are taking part in the Mexican wolf’s Species Survival Plan which manages the captive breeding population for long term genetic viability. Zoos were the source of the original Mexican wolves reintroduced and should be used again rather than any non-Mexican wolves.

  32. avatar Maska says:

    cc: I wonder if we’ll see a suggestion that fostering in the wild be attempted, given that the current Mexican wolf recovery coordinator is Buddy Fazio, who came to the program from the red wolf reintroduction program.

    Placing Mexican wolf pups with surrogate parents in captivity hasn’t always worked very well, unfortunately. Whether it would work well in the wild is an open question.

  33. avatar cc says:

    With the red wolves, the pups had to be the same age and the wild litter receiving the addition had to be have 4 or less pups (ideally less) so as not to overwhelm the mother and compromise pup survival. They’ve been doing it successfully since 2002, so hopefully it will be one of the many new ideas Fazio brings to the table.

  34. avatar bryantolsen says:

    You can’t really study wolves that no longer exist. It is my understanding that there were originally several subspecies in the southwest,C.l.youngi, C.l.montrabilis, C.l.nubilus, C.l.mogolloni, ect. with the original C.l.bailey being described in Mexico. More recently most of these have been combined with the Plains Wolf,C.l.nubilus, based on museum specimens, but some, like C.l.mogolloni and C.l. monstrabilis were combined with C.l.bailey. The book I referenced has all the old subspecies listed with measurements. Demarcated Landscapes:To me real wilderness is free of the “range maggots”,which always bring our wildlife in to conflict with human interest(greed).

  35. avatar mylo says:

    Concerning elk in Mexico, in “Wildlife of Mexico” by A. Starker Leopold (published 1959), he cites Mearns observing two bulls in NE Sonora on San Jose Mountain around the period of 1892-1894 during the International Boundary Survey. Leopold goes on to conclude that “there is no evidence to suggest that the native elk (Merriams) ever penetrated far into the Sierra Madre.”

  36. avatar Jennifer Towner says:

    I,m just now learning about the wolf reintroduction in the Blue Range Area. Last month I was watching a show about coyotes attacks in Cal. I was very surprised that they are losing their fear of humans. My mom owns land in the Blue Range Area just over the Apache County line. The coyote packs were quite large when I lived there back in 1995, but we never saw them we only heard them at night. I called her to ask her if she was having any problems with the coyotes. She said that they are less fearful, and have even snatched some of her small dogs. She also told me that they seem to be getting bigger like they are breeding with wolves or something.

    Question: Since the genetics of the released Grey wolves are iffy, could they be breeding with the coyotes in my mom’s area?

    In 1989 we had Many wild dog packs in our area. My mom she someone was dumping them in groups. Some of these ended up running with the coyotes and having pups. One of these pups took a liking to my mom, she named him ghost he was pure white but looked just like a coyote.

    Well I did some research on the wolf and coyote subjects and found that there was wolves released in the area. The 40 arces my mom owns is high desert only a few juniper trees and lots of sand, Not much food for a wolf except for a rabbit and maybe a antelope, or my moms dogs. Once you go North past Show Low there is no wooded areas water for that matter, lucky for the wolves the cows have scattered ponds and the people are far and few inbetween, but no food..

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