Agency excuses don’t fly for Mexican gray wolf’s removal from northern Arizona habitats

*Post authored by Greta Anderson and Emily Renn 

Mexican Wolf running

Photo courtesy of NY Wolf Conservation Center,

In the Arizona Republic article, “Anubis, a Mexican gray wolf found outside his territory, is relocated amid outcry from scientists, advocates,” (August 18, 2021), Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Jim deVos provided his agency’s justification for removing Anubis, a young wolf who wandered around Flagstaff for nearly four months without any issues. But for each of the agency’s excuses to justify removing this wolf from suitable Mexican gray wolf habitat, there were other ways to address the ‘problem,’ had the agency actually wanted to restore wolves to their rightful place on the broader landscape.

Mr. deVos used the fact that four wolves in 20 years have been roadkill in and around the Flagstaff area as one of the reasons for removing Anubis. It’s true that Mexican gray wolves can be hit by cars; twelve percent of lobo mortalities between 1998 and 2018 were caused by vehicle strikes, mostly within the designated recovery area. Removing Anubis doesn’t protect him from cars, but the agency’s justification reveals something else: wolves are regularly moving north of Interstate 40, the politically established boundary line intended to prevent wolves from re-establishing populations in certain parts of their original range. Rather than translocating the wildlife, the agency could be looking at creating safe wildlife passages for all of Arizona’s animals across highways like I-40. Deal with the problem – roads – rather than trying to block the natural processes of wildlife dispersal and migration.

The Department also used the presence of other wolves in the existing recovery area as a good reason for moving Anubis: “Now he’ll be back in an area with females, finding a female partner, forming a pack and contributing to wolf recovery.” There could be females up around Flagstaff if the Department wasn’t opposing management rule changes that could expand the recovery area to include areas north of I-40. Anubis was contributing to wolf recovery by demonstrating that there is suitable and abundant habitat, and the agency could have instead allowed females to join him. It may take some time for it to manifest on the landscape, but we know that wild wolves are capable of taking care of themselves and finding mates in new territories.

Additionally, the Department rationalized that Anubis’ proximity to people would put him at risk of being intentionally or accidentally shot by people. Killing an endangered species is a crime, full stop, and these unfortunate crimes also happen in the designated recovery area. If the agency had wanted to protect Anubis, it could have made public statements, advising people of the criminal penalties for ‘taking’ an imperiled wolf and educating people about the difference between a coyote and a wolf. Even more proactively, the game agency could have closed the area entirely to coyote hunting during Anubis’ foray or expand such a the closure to everywhere wild wolves roam. Address the issue – human ignorance and criminality – rather than trying to limit where wolves can recover.

The reality seems to be that even though Anubis wasn’t causing any problems, had moved away from the highway, was localized in an area with abundant prey, and was largely staying out of human sight, the Department resented his transgression of their arbitrary boundary and needed to shove him back south across the imaginary line. It’s a shame for Anubis and a shame for the all of Arizona’s critters that our wildlife managers can’t tolerate and try to accommodate wild life.

Greta Anderson is the deputy director of Western Watersheds Project (Twitter: @wildadvocate) and lives in southern Arizona. Emily Renn is the executive director of the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project (Twitter: @GCWolfRecovery) based in Flagstaff.



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  1. Maximilian Werner Avatar
    Maximilian Werner

    Excellent piece. Will this run in the Flagstaff paper and in the Arizona Republic?

    This sentence says it all: “Deal with the problem – roads – rather than trying to block the natural processes of wildlife dispersal and migration.”

    Thank you for your work on the Mexican gray.

    1. Greta Anderson Avatar
      Greta Anderson

      We submitted this to the Arizona Republic in response to their article last week but didn’t hear affirmatively that they intended to publish it, so I posted it here to at least get the piece some eyes. Please share widely!

  2. Maggie Frazier Avatar
    Maggie Frazier

    Doesnt it blow your mind that these agencies (& others) expect wild animals to comprehend the border limits that humans put in place? For crying out loud, HUMANS dont seem to comprehend them nor much else at times. Past time for this kind of outdated baloney to be put back into the past.
    I hope, Greta that the Ariz. Republic editors wake up & print this article!

  3. Maggie Frazier Avatar
    Maggie Frazier

    Point Reyes – Tule Elk water update! Shown below on Western Watershed Projects:
    This situation continues as though no one cares! Video well worth watching…

  4. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Oh how awful. Did you see that awful looking trough?

    Thanks for posting for the Mexican wolves and the Tule elk update too. 🙁

    1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
      Maggie Frazier

      It is terrible. I’ve been reading about & commenting & sent postcards to the supposed people in charge – Feinstein & another Senator – Dems – who apparently are all in for the ranchers there.
      The ranchers that were BOUGHT out several years ago given a time span to leave BUT stayed & leased the sites – sounds like the Park Service is at THEIR service! Kind of like the BLM with the ranchers & wild horses.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        Thank you.

        The worst thing is that the ranchers, who are leasing on the public lands, want to expand their operations, when there isn’t much water to begin with. That part at the very least should be nixed, if bipartisan politicians don’t want to cancel the leases. It’s insulting.

        It was sad to see elk with ribs showing, and getting stuck in the mud trying to get water. People are better than this, or so I am led to believe!

      2. Robert Goldman Avatar
        Robert Goldman

        Where were the lawsuits to enforce the agreement to get the cows out when the damn leases expired?

        1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
          Maggie Frazier

          I read somewhere that the tribes that were originally from that area were, I think, either suing or preparing to sue. But yeah, WHERE are the lawsuits? The other question should be to the two Senators, Feinstein & ?, both Democrats. They are very much in support of the “ranchers”! When I sent postcards several months ago (through a conservation organization) 2 of the names were the 2 senators. The livestock lobby is very much in force!

            1. Ida Lupine Avatar
              Ida Lupine

              The Park Service is obligated to maintain the health of the Tule elk too; not just to be beholden to ranching interests!

              Seeing elk trapped in mud and left to die is a horrible sight. At least do their jobs and oversee them, for crying out loud.

              I remember when a spokesperson for the Park Service tried) a year or two ago to make claims that there was enough water, referring to barely a mud puddle.


  5. Monica S Avatar
    Monica S

    Print the article please other’s need to know. Save the wolves

  6. Kim Boss Avatar
    Kim Boss

    I have completely lost faith in mankind. I am a wolf advocate and supporter of all wildlife. I don’t understand how the cattle industry with a 96 million head count has the nerve to say wolves pose a risk to their livelihood and for a wolf to be killed in the name of cattle is shamefull.The way I see it, wolves should be allowed to kill cattle because they are grazing on public land without any protection measures in place. They also should be allowed a certain amount of cattle kills due to the injustice they have endured by mankind. They should be given a break from relentless persecution and allowed to thrive. Cows are a dime a dozen, not important. Americans are gluttons and waste enormous amounts of food. No wolf should die so there can be a cow on your plate 3 times a day, seven days a week!I lives in Flagstaff, AZ from 2016 to 2019. It is a perfect place for wolves to thrive. Within Flagstaff city limits the speed is 35, maybe 40.There is no place that is above 40 mph. The people are already carefully watching while driving because of the risk of deer and elk being on the road. With that in mind it is a perfect place for wolves to thrive.

  7. Robert Goldman Avatar
    Robert Goldman

    When will this awful situation change for the better, for Mexican wolves and all wolves. What will it take for real change to come? The Democrats get into office and are as stupid and corrupt and unethical as the republicans, when it comes to wolves and wild horses and all the rest.

  8. Jim deVos Avatar
    Jim deVos

    I have read with interest this article and recognize that they have a strong interest in Mexican wolf recovery as does the Arizona Game and Fish Department. It is important to look at all of the circumstances related to the decision to translocate m2520 back to the MWEPA. I was localizing very near housing developments, which heightened the potential for the wolf to be killed. I crossed I-40 on multiple occasions; I-40 is a high-volume high speed transportation corridor where on a recent field trip, three coyotes were road-killed in a 3-mile stretch of the interstate. The AZGFD works closely with the Arizona Department of Transportation on wildlife crossings and support the idea of more crossings on highways like I-40 but these structures are not cheap. The AZGFD help support a wildlife crossing near Tucson (highway 77) and the structure cost was well over $10 Million. To close, the AZGFD has supported the Mexico wolf recovery program since its inception and has a dedicated core of wildlife professionals that are in the field daily working on balanced wolf recovery program.

    1. Greta Anderson Avatar
      Greta Anderson

      Yes, indeed, we were also worried about Anubis crossing I40 and on reconnaissance trips, we noticed lots of dead elk on the roadside too, which may have been what kept him in the area. This suggests again that the AGFD should be prioritizing wildlife crossings, and yes we are aware they are expensive, and in the meantime perhaps removing roadkill/scavenger attractants in key areas would be beneficial. Does AGFD do that?

      Speaking of expensive, your capture plans couldn’t have been cheap. Up to three days in June with a fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter, staffed with agency personnel and a veterinarian, plus food caches and monitoring from at least June to mid-August, sending someone out to track and dart him, and then moving him back south into the arbitrary wolf recovery area. That’s an awful lot of work for one wolf who wasn’t actually habituating or causing any depredations…. his only ‘offense’ was crossing an imaginary line that your agency insists on enforcing for the sake of cattle growers, hunters, and Utah politicians.

      It’s painfully obvious that AGFD only supports wolf recovery in places where wolves can be “managed” as a 10j population and kept in designated habitat. But you might have a hard time convincing Anubis to cooperate with your plans…. and getting the public to believe that it’s in the best interest of the wolves to artificially limit their recovery and range.

  9. Chris Avatar

    “Killing an endangered species is a crime, full stop, and these unfortunate crimes also happen in the designated recovery area.”

    Is this correct? I thought wolves outside the 10(j) area were not protected.

    1. Jim deVos Avatar
      Jim deVos

      Good evening Chris, actually any wolf outside the current 10(j) is fully protected under provisions of ESA. All of the agencies involved in Mexican wolf recovery work to reduce mortality from all sources. It is important to note that the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department have the authority to manage wolves within or outside of the 10(j) as does the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish in Mexico. While killing of wolves does occur in a variety of ways including shooting and vehicle collisions, the good news is that the Mexican wolf population continues to grow at about 14% per year and has nearly doubled in the last 5 years. Genetic management is also important and the agencies have completed 72 fostering events since 2016, which is a program where pups from captive locations are placed with similar aged pups in the wild. While there is a lot of recovery efforts to complete, it is great news that recovery efforts are paying dividends and progress will continue.

      1. Greta Anderson Avatar
        Greta Anderson

        It is important to note that the Fish and Wildlife Service is currently abdicating a lot of its authority to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, who have consistently blocked adult releases, limited cross-fostering efforts, thwarted the establishment of additional release sites on national forests, and insisted on the politically imposed boundary of I40. Recovery efforts are paying dividends DESPITE Arizona’s efforts.

        1. Jim deVos Avatar
          Jim deVos

          Interesting that the perception is that AZGFD is blocking cross-fostering for nothing could be less accurate. AZGFD has been the leader in cross-fostering effort and in fact in 2020 the Fish and Wildlife Service did not participate due to covid and the AZGFD helped foster litters into not only Arizona but New Mexico as well as NMGFD had no experience in fostering. If it were not for the AZGFD in 2020 there would not have been 20 pups from captivity fostered into the wild. Hardly impeding cross-fostering. Were it not for the steadfast effort of the AZGFD recovery would not be as advanced as it is. The AZGFD has contributed over $10 million to direct recovery efforts and maintains a field crew of 4-6 working tirelessly for recovery. Recovery is being made within historical range as required by the Endangered Species Act itself with I-40 being designated by the federal agency in charge of recovery not the AZGFD although this agency does support both the legal and biological aspect of historical range. By the way, what other non-federal entity has the same commitment of financial and staff resources for recovery of the Mexican wolf; easy answer, no one. The AZGFD is a leader in endangered species recovery and the Mexican wolf is no exception.

          1. Greta Avatar

            I said LIMITING cross-fostering. The AZGFD has placed a cap on the number of cross-fosters allowed every year, has it not?

            1. Jim deVos Avatar
              Jim deVos

              There is a cap of 12 animals in AZ. Only met once and AZGFD is working in NM and AZ in the foster program so in total, there is no limit numeric limit on the number of fosters able to be introduced.

              1. Greta Anderson Avatar
                Greta Anderson

                Your answers are obfuscating. Counting New Mexico’s policies as a counterbalance of your own cap seeks to hide the ball of AZ resistance. Why only 12 Jim? And why was it only met once? And why is there a cap in AZ at all, if NM doesn’t need one anymore?

                And anyway, you and I both know that cross-fostering is just one tool and isn’t really a success until those animals grow up and breed — but you’d rather talk about numbers of pups put into dens than the number that are successfully reproducing and contributing to the genetic diversity in the wild. What’s the percentage of success as measured that way, and, projected out, how long is this going to take to rescue lobos from genetic inbreeding, esp. in context of the ongoing inbreeding occurring in the wild over the same time period? I mean, those are the numbers that matter. Dollar signs and person hours are irrelevant if you won’t use tools that could actually work, like adult, well-bonded pair releases into suitable parts of the habitat, allowing range expansion to the north for the creation of another subpopulation, and helping to retire grazing allotments which are a key source of conflict for the program.

                Don’t get me wrong, Jim. I think AZGFD is a critical player in lobo recovery. I just think you are using the wrong metrics to claim success, when the crisis of genetics is real and the opposition to adult wolves is wholly political. We can agree to disagree, but let’s at least talk about the facts that matter.

                1. Mark L Avatar
                  Mark L

                  I.e. how many red wolves have been cross fostered in the last year -anywhere-? It’s a shame that a species can be held hostage to the whims of a few politicians

                2. Jim deVos Avatar
                  Jim deVos

                  I have been on leave and hence a long time to respond. As a practical matter, the agencies do not manage Mexican wolves as separate along state lines. We view the MWEPA as a single population and manage thusly. As an example as we are planning for 2022 fostering, recipient dens are being identified by potential for success and without regard to the state they are in. While you point to NM as not having a cap, for the first three years of fostering 0 wolves could be released in that state while Arizona was actively fostering into wild dens.
                  You correctly state that fostering isn’t a success until fosters have pups of their own and indeed that is occurring. Because fosters are not marked when placed in dens, they are only identified when captured later in life. So we are a bit uncertain how frequently this is occurring, at this time, there are 12 fostered wolves that are collared and being tracked. The field team has now documented 7 litters being produced by fosters. As another measure of success, and I believe this is certainly a very positive metric, there are now 42 packs in the wild, all having the potential to breed and raise pups. Further, this metric increases annually. Another metric of success is that the area occupied by Mexican wolves has expanded by nearly 300%. All of these are data that matter and bode well for recovery in the U.S.
                  There is also another very important metric that was reported at the last Species Survival Program meeting and that is that of 4 measures of genetic conditions in the wild, 3 of the 4 have shown a bit of improvement. Certainly cause for optimism and a demonstration that fostering can and is working.
                  Recovery is working Mexico as well. This past year, 3 litters of pups were born in the wild and there is another release planned for the coming week and another later in October. Overall, there are about 40 Mexican wolves in Mexico and additional release sites are being evaluated now.
                  While there is interest by some to establish another population to the north, ESA precludes this until the Sec. of Interior determines that historical range is not sufficient to allow recovery and with the success to date in both countries this is not likely.
                  You say we that manage wolves are using the wrong metrics and respectfully I disagree. The population in the wild has doubled in five years, there are 42 packs in the wild likely to produce pups in 2022, the SSP reports improved genetics (albeit slight), wolves are expanding in range, 72 pups have been fostered into the wild with hopes for another 20-30 this year. These are metrics that matter in my mind. Is there a ways to go to recovery; of course and agencies work hard daily to make improvements. While we do not agree on the approaches the agencies are taking today, my hope is that one day, we can all agree that recovery is progressing.

  10. Kirk C Robinson, PhD, JD Avatar
    Kirk C Robinson, PhD, JD

    As a conservation activist in Utah of many years who is interested in Mexican wolf recovery, I have followed the recovery efforts nearly from the beginning. There is an abundance of hard evidence that Utah has done its best to politicize and hamper the recovery effort to make sure that Mexican wolves never populate Utah, which would allow the population expand north of I-40. Former Senator Orrin Hatch played a big part in this, as did a former Director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Jim Karpowitz and others. I have official documents that verify this. Furthermore, this meddling has nothing at all to do with the requirements of the ESA. Everyone who knows the ESA well knows that it allows for reintroducing experimental populations into suitable unoccupied habitat if the best scientific evidence indicates that that is what it will take for true recovery to occur, which in this case would be a self-sustaining viable population of Mexican wolves. And the best available science does say this. The top wolf scientists in the world have been saying so for a dozen years. They recommend additional populations of Mexican wolves in the greater Grand Canyon area, which extends into the Paunsaugunt Plateau of southern Utah, as well as into SW Colorado. And Jim deVos knows this very well. If he wants to be completely honest, he will acknowledge this fact. But that would be to expose the additional fact that the rest of his talk is basically political propaganda to try to justify the politically motivated status quo. Or: If deVos thinks he knows more than the recognized top experts, let’s have him prove it. Good luck with that.

    1. Jim deVos Avatar
      Jim deVos

      Dr. Robinson, thanks for your contribution to this informative thread. I appreciate it when people take an interest in conservation and particularly so with the Mexican wolf. It is an animal that once was and will be again, a viable component of the fauna of the American Southwest and Mexico. You raise the question of what the Endangered Species Act permits regarding recovery outside of historical range. In a recent article in the Arizona Republic on Mexican wolf, Dr. Carroll (one of the scientists who often opines on the need for northern releases) states that to conduct recovery outside of historical range would require the Secretary of Interior or their designee to deem that the Mexican wolf is not recoverable in historical range. I am familiar with the ESA and concur with Dr. Carroll on this issue. At this time, it would be very hard for anyone to contend that recovery is not progressing in the Southwest given the positive trajectory of the population in the last decade. You discuss the best available science and state that “true recovery” will require releases into suitable unoccupied habitat. I and most Mexican wolf biologists agree with that concept. Clearly, more than one population of MW is required and that is why there is extensive effort to reestablish the Mexican wolf in Mexico where progress is being made. Today, an additional release is planned for Mexico with another later in October. Mexico had three litters born in the wild this year. Additional release sites in Durango are being evaluated. Some indicate that Mexico is not suitable for recovery, however, a recent peer-reviewed article in Diversity and Distribution (Enrique Martinez-Meyer et al. 2020) supports the existence of considerable suitable habitat in Mexico. It would be an informative read. Importantly, this article had a number of co-authors including several agencies and universities in the U. S. and Mexico so it does not represent a single viewpoint.
      I do not contend that I know more than those who suggest northern movement but I do have both recent and greater quantity of data to consider as I make decisions on Mexican wolf management. For example, when the 2013 Science and Planning Subteam (they were not the full Recovery Team) conducted Vortex modeling, they had 39 litters to use in parameterization; the 2017 had 50 more litters to add to the data sets. In the case of a stochastic model such as Vortex, the more data reliable data available, the more accurate the model outputs. Other parameters used in 2013 were based on literature but the 2017 modeling had information from the MWEPA that were collected after the 2013 modelling effort. In addition to more contemporary data, there are also other scientists who are involved in Mexican wolf recovery. Dr. Phil Miller, a Senior Program Officer with the Conservation Planning Specialist Group of IUCN has conducted Population Viability Analyses for many species across the world and was the scientist that conducted the PVA for the Mexican wolf using the best available science. While there is disagreement between scientists on the best approach to recovery of the subspecies, there is also common ground. It is important to continue to make progress on both numeric and genetic improvements in both the U. S. and Mexico.
      Having spent many years trying to guide and support Mexican wolf recovery, I will be completely honest and state that I do not support status quo and work daily to move forward in a balanced approach to recovery and it is working. The most recent count from the MWEPA found 186 Mexican wolves in the MWEPA, which reflects about a 15% increase over the last several years. The agencies have fostered 72 captive pups into wild dens and we are now following 12 of these fosters including 7 that have reached breeding ages. We have documented several litters attributed to foster parents. The Species Survival Program reported that there is an uptick in genetic diversity. Is there more work to do; of course, but progress is being made and there will be more to come. One only needs to look at progress toward recovery to see that status quo is not driving Mexican wolf recovery. Again Dr. Robinson, thanks for your thoughtful input. As stated in a prior post, we can agree to disagree and I value all input on Mexican wolf recovery.

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