Advocates want answers about depredation investigations in New Mexico

Late in May 2020, the Arizona Daily Star ran an article titled, “Advocates question investigations used to target ‘problem’ wolves,” detailing some of the work that Western Watersheds Project has been doing to review and assess Wildlife Services’ work on livestock killed by Mexican wolves in New Mexico. Together with my colleague – WWP’s Arizona and New Mexico Director Cyndi Tuell – we pored over hundreds of depredation reports from investigations that occurred between 2014 and 2019, and we ended up downright perplexed at some of the agency’s conclusions.

For example, here’s a depredation report from Catron County, New Mexico from March 4th, 2019. It references a complaint received on February 13, 2019 (the point at which the evidence was apparently gathered on site) and the estimated time of death was three months prior. The report indicates that more than three-quarters of the carcass was already gone (0-25% of carcass remaining) and the attached photograph shows that the agent(s) (whose names were withheld) had very little to work with.

Nonetheless, the agents took the scrap of hide on February 13th and soaked it in a barrel for “numerous” days so the hide would be soft enough to work with. They found a canine spread of 40.2mm and a compression spread of 39mm and thus, “Knowing that there are collared and uncollared wolves in the area with the other evidence present,* this cow was killed by Mexican wolves.”

*Elsewhere on the report where it asks for a description of additional evidence that is discovered in the area, the investigator typed “na.”

So, without any other evidence, a delay of three or more months, a bite mark with soaked dimensions that overlap with those of male mountain lions, large male coyotes, and feral dogs, this unnamed investigator was able to CONFIRM that a Mexican wolf was the cause of death.

We note too that the form describes that there are, “collard” [sic] wolves in the area and identifies them as the Prieto Pack. What isn’t clear at all is whether the Prieto Pack was in the area in November, which is when the killing supposedly happened, or in February or March when the investigation occurred and the report was filed, but apparently the time lapse between events wasn’t an issue for these skilled sleuths.

So, presumably, the livestock owner was then able to take this report to the Farm Services Administration and get their $1936.91 (at least, that was the rate in 2016) in livestock loss compensation. And this report likely contributed to the tally of cattle deaths that resulted in the fatal removals and eventual disbanding of the Prieto Pack altogether. Outcomes like these – the lethal disruption of a family of highly imperiled, highly intelligent animals – is why accurate investigations matter deeply to the integrity and success of the Mexican gray wolf recovery program.

If Wildlife Services is signing off on specious conclusions, handing them to Fish and Wildlife Services as fact, contributing to the misperception of wolves as vicious killers, and allowing those reports to validate compensation claims reimbursed from taxpayer money, someone needs to be held accountable.

Dozens more of these Wildlife Services’ depredation investigation reports don’t pass the smell test, and the American public deserves explanations for the sketchy confirmations. And I want those answers before another Mexican gray wolf is removed from the wild or killed in retaliation for her alleged crimes.






  1. Maximilian Werner Avatar
    Maximilian Werner

    I’m sure it wouldn’t be difficult to find out which agent took the call. There can’t be more than two or three for that region. I’m sure you’ve considered this. Makes me wish I were still in AZ so I’d have boots on the ground. I spent a lot of time on the White Mountain Apache Reservation, near Greer. I wonder what the tribe thinks of all this? That’s rugged country.

    1. Greta Anderson Avatar
      Greta Anderson

      Most of the sketchy investigations arise in Catron County, New Mexico rather than Arizona. In fact, New Mexico has about 3 x the number of “confirmed depredations” as Arizona, despite the lobos being about equally distributed across the landscape. Go figure.

  2. Maggie Frazier Avatar

    It would appear that actual physical proof is completely unnecessary nor needed by Wildlife Services – only what they SAY it is or what they make it?
    Just more of the uneven or absent facts that seem to pop up whenever livestock grazing & the various components that occur WITH livestock grazing happen.
    Imagine – just imagine what it would be like if the agencies that are in place to “manage” wildlife & the habitat actually DID! You know, no livestock in our Forests, National Monuments or, shockingly, in Wild Horses HMAs!
    Dream on, right?

  3. Marc Bedner Avatar

    What will it take to remove Wildlife Services from the Mexican wolf reintroduction program?

  4. Donald J Kaleta Avatar

    As Wolf Depredation on Domestic Livestock escalates, in the U.S. and throughout the World with the Wolves successful re-introduction populations spread, the contentious anger between Livestock Producers and Conservationists does also spread. My published research web site at http://WWW.FENCEFLAGWOLFTRAINING.COM is a tangible suggestion, with minimal cost, to mitigate some of the anger on both sides of the fence!

  5. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    I’ve always wondered how investigators can be so sure in a case like this, whether an animal didn’t come along after the fact, and did not kill the cow or calf initially.

    I don’t think it is the price we should have to pay for the tolerance of wolves on the landscape. 🙁

    1. Greta Anderson Avatar

      When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a wolf killed it, apparently.

  6. Beeline Avatar

    I think that Wildlife Services at USDA is highly bias and that its whole program should be questioned. This agency racks up quite a kill list. Their ‘Program Data Report’ for 2018 indicates that a total of 2,652,406 animals were killed/euthanized. 1,155,530 of these were labeled as invasive species leaving 1,496,775 as native species killed. As I mentioned in another post this agency kills native species like robins, plovers, meadow larks, night hawks and a whole lot more. What gives?

    It is interesting to note that reports from 26 states indicated that 128 feral/domestic dogs were killed but reports from only 5 states state that 357 gray wolves were killed. Last time I checked dogs were a hell of a lot more numerous than wolves.

    One problem that I personally experienced was that government agencies don’t like to kill domestic dogs because they are afraid of being sued by the owner. When I lived in California years ago there was a local pack of dogs that killed deer, wild turkeys and some of the neighbors pets. I personally spoke with the patrol captain for the Cal DFG and he told me that the agency did not wish to pursue the problem because they might get sued. I also informed the local county animal control about the problem which went on for over two years and all they could do was to pick up an old labrador retriever wandering down a main road nearby. Finally, these dogs attacked some goats in a pen and at least one was killed by a neighbor. So much for agency help.

    With reference to ranchers and dogs; the ranchers pretty much have a carte blanc right to shoot them on site. So undoubtedly a lot of dogs get shot so no agency is called and no report is ever filed which makes wolves look like super predators. Unfortunately for wolves, they fall under the jurisdiction of the feds.

    When I worked in the field back in the 60’s, 70,s and 80’s I saw quite a few dead cows. I would say that determining the cause of death as being a predator attack from one particular species on a 90 day old carcass is pretty much impossible. Cattle can die of a number of ailments and not just from a predator attack. And a carcass laying out for so long could have been chewed on by a number of animals.

    I fear that “Wildlife Services” previously know as “Animal Damage Control” has become an institution of death and destruction.

    1. Maggie Frazier Avatar

      Doesnt it seem that far too many of these agencies are just “doing their thing” right now? I guess they think no one is watching while we are “sheltering in place” (well, most of us). Altho, I agree Wildlife “Services” has been operating that way for years! Death & destruction? Yup

      1. Beeline Avatar

        Hi Maggie: The Reagan/Watt administration started eroding the integrity of federal bureaus and services by requiring them to mimic corporate behavior which made individual employees more like obedient slaves and much less equal in the regulatory system.

        Essentially, federal employees were to become loyal to the republican political leadership and make the enforcement of environmental laws a “rubber stamp” affair. So those employees that gave up their integrity and simply “rubber stamped” permit applications etc. were promoted as a reward and those that refused to go along were purged from the government. I don’t think that the regulatory agencies have ever recovered from the ever present political interference.

        Thus I don’t think they are doing there “own thing” so much as doing what they are told to do by their political masters.

        1. Maggie Frazier Avatar

          I agree – I guess I could have phrased it better. The fact that individuals that march to the “party” line are the ones who have come out on top and now are in charge – that is the problem. Its been pretty obvious for years now that anyone who considers the wildlife and habitat as a priority sooner or later becomes pushed out. And at the present time – this destruction is happening faster than ever.
          Thanks, Beeline!


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