Saturday, February 20, 2016

Wolf Weekly Wrap Up

Red Wolf Population Plunges to as Few as 50 as Feds Gut Recovery Program

 Anti-wildlife Groups Spur Halt to Recovery Efforts, Poaching Investigations

The nation’s only population of red wolves is in an alarming free-fall, declining by 27 percent from 2014 to 2015 to as few as 50 individuals, according to new population counts released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Red wolf population graphThe total estimated population has declined by about 50 percent since 2012, from 100 to 120 individuals to just 50 to 75 in 2015. The declines have occurred since the Service bowed to political pressure from the state of North Carolina, eliminating the program’s recovery coordinator in 2014 and stopping the introduction of new red wolves into the wild in July 2015.  The agency also ended a coyote-sterilization program to prevent hybrid animals from harming the gene pool, drastically reduced law-enforcement investigations of wolf deaths, and stopped publicizing cases where poaching was determined to be the cause of deaths.

“Director Ashe and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are deliberately condemning the red wolf to extinction,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The red wolf recovery program was once a shining example of successful conservation. Under the direction of Dan Ashe, the program has been quietly dismantled to appease a few anti-wildlife zealots. It’s disgraceful.”

Red wolf releases in North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge began in the mid-1980s and pushed the population to more than 100 wolves by the mid-2000s. The population stopped growing in 2011 as gunshot mortalities increased. Red wolf mortality skyrocketed after North Carolina authorized nighttime hunting of coyotes because red wolves and coyotes are nearly indistinguishable in the dark. Following a successful lawsuit to stop nighttime hunting, the Fish and Wildlife Service faced increased political pressure to curtail the red wolf recovery program.    
“Conservation scientists have shown that recovering the red wolf is completely achievable and know what steps need to be taken next,” said Hartl. “Rather than following the science, the red wolf program is in disarray because the Service won’t stand up to this political pressure.”

A 2014 report from the independent Wildlife Management Institute concluded that if the red wolf is going to recover, two additional populations need to be established in the wild, and additional resources need to be invested to build local support for red wolf recovery.

There is strong local and national support for red wolves. Recently 100 citizens who live in the red wolf recovery area in North Carolina sent apetition to the Fish and Wildlife Service expressing their support for keeping endangered red wolves in the wild. In addition, 110,000 people from around the United States, including more than 1,500 North Carolina residents, submitted letters in support of the red wolf program. The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Devastating Start to the Year for Lobos
Latest count shows population of critically endangered Mexican gray wolves is down. It’s not a title that most species would want, but the Mexican gray wolf (also known as “lobo”) is the most endangered gray wolf in the world. This smaller subspecies of the gray wolf once ruled as top dog throughout the American Southwest until humans drove them to the brink of extinction. And while the lobo population hit a record high last year, this year, the news isn’t so good. The latest population count shows there are now just 97 Mexican gray wolves in the wild, an 11% drop from last year.

A drop in the Mexican gray wolf count is the last thing the lobos need as they continue to fight for their survival. The conservation and scientific communities already know– and have known for years – how to set lobos on the road to recovery. In order for lobos to recover fully, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to commit to more wolf releases, a science-based recovery plan, and more wolf populations in suitable habitats.

It seems pretty straightforward, right? Yet, the Service has been unable to move forward on these sensible solutions because the agency has been feeling the heat from four key states involved in Mexican gray wolf recovery efforts — New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah.
Mexican gray wolf and pup, © Joel Sartore/ -
Mexican gray wolf and pup, © Joel Sartore/ -

It all came to a head in November of last year. Governors from all four states sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, expressing their concerns over recovery of the Mexican gray wolf. The governors argued that wolves never lived north of Interstate 40, and should therefore not be allowed in habitats in the Grand Canyon ecoregion and northern New Mexico/southern Colorado, and that the bulk of recovery should occur in Mexico.

Frankly, the governors’ arguments don’t hold water.  They rely on out of date science in trying to keep wolves south of an arbitrary line, but a recently published, peer-reviewed study from UCLA draws a more accurate picture of where the lobo once roamed. The study shows the Mexican gray wolf’s historic range reached far north of Interstate 40, including lands in California, Nevada, southern Utah and southern Colorado. In any case, where the lobo used to live is largely irrelevant in charting its future as habitats are altered by climate change and human development and the Service can reintroduce Mexican gray wolves where there is suitable habitat.

Based on peer reviewed research, the Service’s own team of scientists identified the Grand Canyon ecoregion of Arizona and Utah and northern New Mexico/southern Colorado as necessary regions for Mexican gray wolf recovery. These areas have sufficient habitat and prey, are sparsely populated by people and roads and could support two new core populations near the existing one in Arizona and New Mexico.
Wolf supporters rally to protest New Mexico's anti-wolf decisions.
Wolf supporters rally to protest New Mexico’s anti-wolf decisions.
In addition to the letter from the four governors, the Four Corner states have demonstrated their opposition to Mexican gray wolf recovery efforts in other ways. The Arizona Fish and Game Commission has voted to block all new releases of adult wolves – quite a betrayal after the commission got the Service to agree to their many anti-recovery demands in the latest management rules. Utah has been aggressively hostile in voicing its disdain for hosting any wolf populations. Last month, Colorado Parks and Wildlife passed an anti-wolf resolution banning the reintroduction of all wolves, including the Mexican gray wolf, across the state. The next day, the New Mexico Fish and Game denied Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch appeal, which would have allowed the ranch to hold lobos on their way to the wild. New Mexico’s commission has also refused to allow wolf releases.

Enough is enough. The Mexican gray wolf needs all parties involved in lobo recovery efforts – the Service, states, private landowners, conservation groups, local communities — to work together to implement viable, science-based solutions, or the lobo will be lost forever. The Service needs to stop pandering to the states, assert its rightful authority and do its job: recover the Mexican gray wolf. It’s high time conservation goals trumped political ones.
Gray Wolf, © Joan Poor
Gray Wolf, © Joan Poor
Science: Predators combat climate change
A new study explains that enhancing ecosystems’ overall health – or “biodiversity” – can go a long way towards mitigating the impacts of climate change. The research shows that in areas where top predators have been removed, carbon emissions can increase significantly. Yale ecology Professor Schmidt summed it up the following way: “…by being an integral part of a larger food chain, the species may trigger effects that grow through the chain to drive significant amounts of carbon into long-term storage on land or in the ocean.” For example, in forest areas where wolves have been removed, increases in grazing from inflated populations of elk and other herbivores reduce these forest ecosystems’ ability to absorb carbon. This study is yet another example of positive animal–driven effects on the areas they inhabit, and it gives all of us more momentum in our continued fight to restore imperiled wildlife across the U.S.
Mexican gray wolf, © Jim Clark/USFWS
Mexican gray wolf, © Jim Clark/USFWS

U.S. Population of Mexican Gray Wolves Declines
Yesterday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its annual population count for Mexican gray wolves. This year, the count is down from 110 to just 97 wolves in the wild. This population drop is a clear indication that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to do more – and do it fast – to recover the Mexican gray wolf. The agency needs to release more wolves, provide a final recovery plan and establish more populations in suitable habitats. Defenders will continue to work day in and day out to make sure the most endangered gray wolf in the world does not go extinct.

Standing up against Idaho’s war on wolves
Idaho’s fever for wolf killing shows no signs of slowing. Last week we unveiled the fact that Idaho proceeded with a secretive wolf killing operation in the Clearwater National Forest to artificially inflate elk populations for sport hunters. And this month, the state announced it is requesting a renewal of funds for its “wolf killing board.” If approved, this will grant the state more than half a million dollars to kill wolves — for operations including the aerial gunning in the Clearwater. In response, on Monday we banded with our supporters and other organizations for a rally on the steps of the statehouse and demanded an end to Idaho’s aggressive use of lethal control on its wolf population.
Wolf rally on steps of Idaho statehouse, © Defenders of Wildlife
Wolf rally on steps of Idaho statehouse, © Defenders of Wildlife

Idaho’s “wolf killing board” has received $400,000 from state tax dollars per year since 2014 when Governor Otter established it, and the goal of board is singular: drive Idaho’s wolf population down as low as possible.

Throwing money at lethal control programs without even considering effective non-lethal options for keeping wolves away from livestock makes absolutely no sense! And many such programs do exist. Working with ranchers, Defenders has pioneered many practical solutions to help livestock and wolves coexist. For example the Wood River Coexistence Project in central Idaho uses proven, effective nonlethal deterrents like fladry, range riders, electric fencing and guard dogs to help protect livestock and build social acceptance for wolves. Help us continue our fight against Idaho’s war on wolves.