More on Wildlife Services’ sketchy depredation reports blaming Mexican wolves for livestock kills

Photo by Trisha Shears

Mexican gray wolves are blamed for all kinds of livestock deaths in Catron County, and so we wanted to see for ourselves, by reviewing depredation reports, how USDA Wildlife Services is investigating dead livestock and arriving at determinations that Mexican wolves are to blame. Spoiler alert: It’s not particularly convincing. (I’ve written about this before, here, but I wanted to provide more examples for those of you who are following the story.) 

For example, in this report from January 31, 2019, the remains of a 2-day old calf became a “confirmed” wolf kill. (Calving on public lands at 7100 feet in January seems crazy to us, but that’s another story.) Less than ¼ of the carcass was remaining, and it had already been moved from the place where it was found. There is no photo showing the carcass on the landscape, only the remainder of a calf’s rear legs on the bed of a truck. Nonetheless, the investigators determined that it was eaten from rear end to head (the pattern consistent with wolves), despite having no head or torso or anything with which to determine the order of feeding. They found canine spreads and compression marks on the skin, neither of which proves the calf was alive if (or when) it was eaten by something with 40.4mm to 42.3mm canine teeth, dimensions that also could be attributed to feral dogs or mountain lions. It is important to note that there are also no photos of the compression spread alleged in the report. But rather than even consider it “probable” wolf kill, the investigators CONFIRMED it. 

Here’s another one, from the same time period, which happened to be during the government shutdown of 2019. The Wildlife Services’ agent wasn’t working, so when s/he came back to the office, they “peer reviewed” someone else’s work. Likely, but not demonstrably due to redactions, this someone else was Jess Carey, Catron County’s private wolf investigator. As far as we can tell, Carey’s only biological qualifications are a long-time disdain of wolves. The report shows another dead calf on the back of a pick-up truck. The only evidence was rolled-over rocks and “canine spreads located on the hock of the calf.” Oddly, the photos also show compression spreads (supposed to show where the wolf clamped down) but there is no evidence of the kind of hemorrhaging that would indicate the calf was alive when those bites occurred. The Prieto Pack was in the area at the time, so this was another CONFIRMED kill. Ka-ching!  

Here’s another one where they admit there’s no evidencenone – but considered it to be a PROBABLE wolf kill, for which compensation drops to 50 percent but is still $975.00. This determination was based on other wolf kills having occurred in the area, and nothing else. And curiously, they didn’t find any bite marks on the carcass, but also said coyotes had fed on it.  

And here’s yet another one where a Mexican wolf (at most, 80lbs) killed a bull (which run 1,800 pounds on average), despite there being other livestock in the area, which goes against all wisdom about predators killing the easiest prey. Even the larger Northern Rockies wolves rarely if ever prey on bulls, but this smaller subspecies of Mexican wolves somehow manages to do so frequently. Admittedly, sometimes their methods are a little odd

But I don’t want to just pick on Catron County, because the Wildlife Services is responsible for investigating possible wolf kills even without the, ahem, ‘expertise’ of Jess Carey. Maybe this one near Vernon in Apache County, Arizona would raise some flags? The cow had been dead about 14 days but the other cows in the pasture were still nervous when Wildlife Services showed up. The remains were carried out of the field by the rancher and, literally, it’s nothing but a piece of a leg. The report says there are photos taken of the site and attached, but they aren’t. There’s no evidence of hemorrhaging (which is evident whenever a predator kills a large animal, rather than scavenging an already-dead carcass) in two of the photos that claim to show it, either. And without any evidence but some teeth marks (whose dimensions, again, overlap with other predators), this “wolf kill” was CONFIRMED. Looks like Arizona’s Wildlife Services has some explaining to do too. 

We sincerely hope that federal officials are paying attention to these suspect reports, and that whomever is signing off on them is going to get fired. If this is just sloppy work, that’s unacceptable. If this is intentional fraud, that’s a felony. And in any case, these fraudulent determinations are harming the recovery of Mexican wolves in the southwest, and that’s the biggest crime of all. 

Update: I’ve asked the New Mexico Director of Wildlife Services if he’d like to respond to this post and I offered to post his explanations here. I’ve also asked what he plans to do about these suspicious reports. Stay tuned! – greta




  1. Maggie Frazier Avatar

    Honestly – the bull “caught in a tree” sure does rate as odd to me too. Not a lot of experience with bulls (or cows, for that matter) but ONE 80 lb wolf accomplished that? Wow!
    I hope & pray that at the end of this administration’s tenure there are wolves, grizzly bears, mountain lions, wild horses, etc etc etc left. But then SOMEONE has to put a stop to wildlife “services”, grazing allotments & start actually investigating the offenses that both of these issues require!
    Keep writing & keep informing us!

    1. LifS Avatar

      Contrary to the movie versions of how wolves kill, in fact wolves run their prey to exhaustion before taking them down. It’s much less risky. Big muscle-bound bulls don’t take much running before they overheat and fall to exhaustion, whereas a light-bodied wolf can go for miles and miles (in fact, wolves are known to travel 50 miles in a day. Bulls can’t do that). Then it’s a simple matter for one lone wolf to begin to feed. Wolves are designed by nature to be efficient predators.

      1. Hiker Avatar

        LifS, what movies are you watching? What you described is how wolves sometimes hunt. That method is useful in winter when prey are more vulnerable due to lack of nutrients and they have to plow through snow. But wolves hunt and catch a wide variety of things in many ways. It’s rare they would go after a bull of any species during the spring, summer, or fall when that animal is fit. One wrong move and that wolf is dead. Wolves don’t live long, if they’re not murdered by their own kind they get killed while hunting.

        1. Greta Anderson Avatar

          Here’s the thing though — after wolves run the prey to exhaustion, they begin to feed. (You said it yourself.) The fact is that many of the carcasses confirmed as wolf kills in Catron County show no evidence that they were eaten at all. Wolves don’t kill for sport. Wolves work their tails off to take down big prey and then stick around and eat it. If that bull was a wolf kill, it would have been wolf dinner.

          1. karen Avatar

            Don’t you love the one where they say that 9 wolves (not sure how they know the exact number) killed 14 elk, for sport, and didn’t eat a single one. yeah, right!

      2. Nancy Avatar

        Clicked on your icon LifS and smiled when I read through some of your website and where your head’s at – IMHO, a good place.

        Lots of archived info and articles on the Wildlife News site so spend some time reading them when you can because it will help you get a feel for many of the bloggers here 🙂 and why we are passionate about all sorts of wildlife and what’s left of the wilderness areas, were they are still allowed to roam in what’s became, more and more, a human species, dominated landscape.

  2. Maximilian Werner Avatar
    Maximilian Werner

    This is seriously wrong, but not at all surprising. Thanks for all your work on this, Greta. It’s very good to know that these agencies (and these agents) aren’t escaping notice. I think that sort of exposure is a big part of correcting and changing bad behavior.

    1. Greta Anderson Avatar

      Thanks Maximilian. I’m noticing more than I can even write up these days! It’s a wild ride.

      1. Maximilian Werner Avatar
        Maximilian Werner

        I hear you. Covering the missteps and atrocities in any given state (though perhaps some more than others) is really a full time job all by itself. I’ve been stewing on the situation up in WA for a while now. Any day something is bound to erupt from my pen. And now with this latest news about the two female Mexican grays being killed, I don’t know where to focus my anger. And people wonder why the so-called enviros choose to litigate. It’s really the only way to prevent, or at least curtail, these killings from happening.

  3. Carter Niemeyer Avatar
    Carter Niemeyer

    The location of bite wounds on a prey species carcass is far more important that the “tooth spread” or distance between the canine teeth relating to punctures or scrapes on the prey’s skin or hide. Wolves attack the hindquarters and flanks, bears attack over the neck, back and shoulders while mountain lions go for the neck and throat. During my nearly 3 decades of examining reported livestock damage by predators I can tell you the space between canine teeth on adult gray wolves, black bears, mountain lions and some domestic dogs is approximately 2″ give or take a centimeter or two. In addition, the skin or hide on prey species is pliable and stretches or wraps around body curvatures like the legs altering distance measurements. Distance between canine teeth punctures and scrapes are a significant bit of evidence to collect but certainly NOT the determining factor by any means.

    My years with Wildlife Services certainly revealed the agency discouraged detailed reports and kept them sketchy at best. Recent reports in Idaho contained comments amounting to less than a sentence – consistent with wolf attack” and such. Detailed reports are not only a professional responsibility – the public should demand that reports are specific in nature and contain reasonable explanations to justify confirmation of kills and the resulting removal (killing) of wolves and other predators.

    In the case of Catron Co the investigator is affiliated with the county rather than Wildlife Services.

    1. Greta Anderson Avatar

      Thank you Carter!!

    2. Nancy Avatar

      Hoping you would weigh in, Carter. Thank you!

    3. LifS Avatar

      As I’m sure Mr. Niemeyer is aware, the Catron County investigator is highly qualified for the work he does, no matter who pays his wages. He is a former law enforcement officer as well as former certified Field Deputy Medical Investigator under the New Mexico State Chief Medical Examiner’s office.

      1. Hiker Avatar

        LifS, I’m wondering how any of that makes him qualified to investigate exactly how something died in the field if there are only legs left!

      2. Nancy Avatar

        “He is a former law enforcement officer as well as former certified Field Deputy Medical Investigator under the New Mexico State Chief Medical Examiner’s office”

        LifS – Derek Chauvin had 18 years in law enforcement (remember George Floyd?) so that’s a rather weak argument, IMHO, don’t you think?

        Fact is and its coming from someone who’s spent close to 30 years in “cow country” dead cattle, on the landscape, are the norm out here from a whole host of other reasons rather than depredation by predators. BUT, most predators (big and small) will take advantage of a free meal when its just left there, rotting away.

        Most ranchers aren’t going to waste the time to dispose of dead cattle even on their private lands, short of pulling them further into fields so they aren’t an “eyesore” to the passing public.

        Another story when it comes to public lands, like around here, where cattle are dumped, for months at a time and they spread out over miles of forested areas, usually with no supervision.

        They die (from a whole host of other reasons) and no one notices until that lone cowboy, stationed at some remote cow camp, cries WOLVES! or BEARS! (When he heads in once a week to collect his paycheck)

        Knew a cow camp cowboy that was given permission (by officials) to shot wolves that decided to pester his array of cow dogs. Who by the way, were infringing on THEIR (the wolves) territory – public lands.

        Good read:

        1. Maggie Frazier Avatar

          Really great article – but then Todd Wilkinson (Mountain Journal) always does a good job. Thanks Nancy
          NOW I’ll go get my breakfast & another cup of coffee!

          1. LifS Avatar

            My point about Catron County’s depredation investigator’s experience was that as a former County Sheriff, he has actual experience in investigation and law.

            Dissing someone is an even weaker argument, IMO.

            1. Hiker Avatar

              LifS, experience is important. However, applicable experience is more important. Then, of course, there is bias. I think that was the point of the article. This investigator is biased against wolves and doesn’t seem to have the experience needed in this field. Reports are churned out that seem dubious. I would say also that it’s common for ‘dissing’ to occur. It’s playbook nowadays. But I disagree with you, I don’t think that was ‘dissing’, just pointing out that law enforcement experience can’t always be trusted.

      3. Bob kuhnert Avatar
        Bob kuhnert

        I was part a conference call with Jess Carey at a local rancher home last winter here in southwest Colorado. After listening to his hysterical ranting for several minutes, it was evident that he is extremely anti-wolf and was trying to spread misinformation about wolf depredation to Colorado ranchers on our western slope.
        He presented himself as a deputy of the Catron County NM Sheriff’s office, and offered no credential to support his qualifications to investigate wildlife depradations on livestock.

    4. Bob kuhnert Avatar
      Bob kuhnert


  4. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Thank you!

  5. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Yes he does. Bittersweet, though “Mountain Outlaws” that they are.

    Thanks for posting, Nancy.

  6. Nancy Avatar

    Maggie, Ida, about 11 am this morning I noticed my neighbor’s mules (over on the meadow across from me) had taken a sudden interest in something on the other side of the jack fence. Grabbed the binoculars figuring it was a moose or an elk.

    Panned across the ditch they were staring at and a big, black wolf appeared, skirting the willows as it headed away from the mules. It traveled along the ditch for 50 yards or so then made a quick run across an open field to another willow covered ditch. Didn’t see it again.

    Wow! A rare sighting although I was sure I may of seen it briefly a couple of weeks ago across the valley, before it headed into the sagebrush.

    I’m hoping its heading for the mountains up behind me because there are lots of cows and trigger happy ranchers in this valley.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      You’re lucky! 🙂

    2. Maggie Frazier Avatar
      Maggie Frazier

      Another article about the same wolf biologist – really interesting altho depressing!

  7. LifS Avatar

    The same way any forensic investigator would: by examining the whole site, not just isolated body parts. Note that while it could happen, it would be uncommon for only legs to be left from a depredation.

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue

      Have you ever seen a wolf kill site in person?
      Have you ever been to a freshly killed carcass?
      Have you ever observed the kill site over multiple days?
      Have you ever looked for the birds?

      1. LifS Avatar

        Immer Treie:

        Yes I have seen a wolf kill site in person
        Yes I have been to a number of freshly killed carcasses (though they were not wolf kills)
        Yes I have observed kill sites over multiple days
        Yes I have looked for the birds because that’s one way to locate a carcass.

        Furthermore, I have discussed the situation with the Catron County wolf incident investigator and read quite a few of the Catron County depredation reports.
        I have personally interviewed ranchers who lost cattle to wolves, and said interviews have been submitted to government agencies.
        I have personally interviewed families who were harassed by wolves and who lost pets to wolves, and said interviews have been submitted to government agencies.
        For about ten years I was involved with Catron County NM, Apache County AZ, Greeley County AZ, and the San Carlos Apache Reservation response to wolf depredation.
        During that time I attended meetings with government agencies as a representative of county governments regarding wolf depredation.

        I do not claim to be an expert by any means, but I do also speak from experience.

        1. Hiker Avatar

          LifS, I would think if you could tell it was a wolf kill site you ARE claiming some expertise.
          When you say you interviewed families that were harassed by wolves, what exactly does that mean? Please define what wolf harassment looks like.
          For about 15 years I lived among wolves (and griz. and mtn. lions). I’ve seen kill sites but couldn’t say for sure what killed it. Unless you are an expert how could you tell?

          1. LifS Avatar

            I was not the investigator. I was just an observer.

            When I say I interviewed, I was paid to record what families and ranchers experienced.

            Wolf harassment looked like:
            * A wolf fought with the family dog on the back porch right outside the kitchen. If I remember correctly, an adult family member opened the door and got the dog in the house at some point. The dog survived though the wolf left a fang embedded in the dog’s head. The children were in the house at the time. I don’t now recall what time of day this happened.
            * A wolf fought with s dog, again outside the back door (I guess because dogs will run to the door when threatened or maybe because the dogs are trying to protect their people – but that’s just speculation on my part and did not go in any report). There were young children in the house and the mother was the only adult in the house so she did not open the door. The dog was killed by the wolves. Incident occurred during the day.
            * A wolf pack came to a ranch house on 28 reported occasions. Children were in the house. Incidents occurred day and night.
            * A wolf was videoed scratching at a house’s glass door. Children were in the house. Incident occurred during the day.
            * Three young children were sitting in the kitchen having lunch and watched a wolf in the chicken pen killing their chickens before their mother could get them away from the window. I interviewed that woman twice. The second time a wolf had been scratching at the wooden door, presumably trying to get in. Because of that the woman had installed security bar door that she kept locked because she was afraid her children might go outside when a wolf was there. I forget now how many reports were made from that location, but it was at least a dozen.
            * A woman heard something going after her turkeys. Her dog was barking. When she went outside to see what was happening, it was a wolf. She grabbed the dog, the turkeys were killed — and then the wolf jumped up on a wood pile leaning against a wall and looked in the window. There were children in the house. Incident occurred during the day.

            Those are just a few of the interviews I did. All were reported to authorities and were investigated by FWS. They are part of the official records that are available to the public. Some of them were within Catron County and were investigated by the County wolf investigator as well as FWS.

            I did dozens of interviews of parents for a study done by a child psychologist who was looking at the possibility that the children might suffer from PSTD because of repeated wolf incidents (all the incidents I cited above were just one of many at each location). The child psychologist additionally interviewed the children (I was not present for those and due to HIPAA did not see those interviews). The psychologist’s report was peer-reviewed, and it was submitted to government agencies.

            Every interview I did was of people who had seen the wolves with their own eyes, had reported the incidents to authorities, and each incident was verified as involving wolves.

            Other interviews were of ranchers who had experienced multiple depredations.

            Again, I was not as a wolf depredation investigator, my job was to report what people who had been involved with wolf incidents experienced.

            1. Hiker Avatar

              Thank you. One question. How were these incidents verified as involving wolves? I’ve talked to people who confused bobcats with mtn. lions and osprey with bald eagles. I was a NPS Park Ranger when those mix up’s occurred. I think it’s easy for people to get confused if they are scared and have limited experience.

              1. Greta Anderson Avatar

                I’m not so sure that this isn’t also something of a cultural phenomenon, LifS. The culture of wolf hatred and fear runs deep in Catron County, and the narratives around wolf encounters are necessarily shaped by that context. If you grow up expecting a Big Bad Wolf to eat you at the bus stop, every time you see one is terrifying. I don’t doubt that the kids were scared for their lives, but I do wonder who put that idea in their heads. For example, some kids believe in Santa Claus. It isn’t real, but the adults around create an environment of persuasion. Would the reports of those wolf encounters had been different if the community expected something different of wolves?

                1. LifS Avatar

                  Please cite the peer-reviewed scientific studies that support your assertion that there is a “culture of wolf hatred and fear” running deep in Catron County. You seem quite sure that is what it is like here.

                2. Nancy Avatar

                  Maybe a little past insight on this blog re: Catron County, LifS?


                  Seem to recall the same “panties in a twist” in my neck of the woods by ranchers when wolf reintroduction happened in Yellowstone back in the 90’s.

                  In no time at all, wolves were EVERYWHERE and the thought was ranchers would soon be going out of business.

                  Quite the opposite has happened though – cattle numbers have increased and in some cases, doubled on the ranches around me.

                3. LifS Avatar

                  You cite an article from 13 years ago, which itself provides a link to a webpage that isn’t available. The article has no factual information, but does have an unsupported accusation. That doesn’t add up in my book to any kind of justification for the claim of a “culture of wolf hatred and fear” running deep in Catron County.

                4. Nancy Avatar

                  LifS, here’s an article from 22 years ago, please do let me know if the mentality has changed since then:

                  “The visceral hatred that led to eradication of the wolf still permeates the social structure in towns like Springerville and Alpine in Arizona, and Luna and Reserve in New Mexico.

                  “Everybody over here, 99 percent of them, is opposed to the wolf,” says Jesse Carey, a former Catron County, New Mexico, sheriff and owner of a gun shop in Reserve”


                5. Hiker Avatar

                  LifS, can you provide any studies that show wolves to be dangerous to humans? This is all about money and how much can be extracted from OUR public land. Every time a rancher cries wolf it’s really MONEY! These wolves are endangered. They may go extinct. Forever. That’s way more important than MONEY!

        2. Immer Treue Avatar
          Immer Treue


  8. Gail Avatar

    Sounds like the “overseers” need some serious oversight.

  9. Maggie Frazier Avatar

    Nancy – read the whole 22 year old article from the Phoenix Times. Sure seems to prove that the parties in charge of wolf re-introduction at that time were shooting themselves in the foot (as well as the wolves). Can sure understand why the one gal left – $25,000/annual pay for the amount of work & study involved? And to see the wolves not even have a chance from the start – The idiocy of turning them out in areas where they had no chance to become wild. And the agencies didnt sound like they had any interest in the project being successful. Really interesting article.

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