Genetic Crisis Threatens Unique Southwestern Wolves With Extinction

SILVER CITY, N.M.— Advocates for wild animals, along with scientists and breeders of endangered wolves for conservation, urged Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today to release five or more packs of endangered Mexican gray wolves into the Gila National Forest in New Mexico through the end of this year and into 2016. A letter to Jewell signed by 43 groups and scientists emphasizes the urgency of the issue, pointing out that federal biologists and independent scientists have repeatedly made clear that without such releases, wolf inbreeding will worsen — crippling chances of recovery.

“Federal biologists know they must release more Mexican wolves from captivity, but the Obama administration has permitted the release of just four,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Then the government recaptured one and shot another, and the remaining two also died — which argues not only for stricter protections but also for many more releases to ensure that some wolves actually add to the gene pool.”

Releases of wolves bred in captivity are necessary, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and independent scientists, in order to diversify the gene pool among the wild wolves. Inbreeding among the Mexican wolf’s wild population in the United States is causing fewer pups to be born and fewer to survive to adulthood.

“The longer we delay in introducing new wolves to increase genetic variation in the wild Mexican gray wolf populations, the greater our future challenge will be to ensure that this distinctive wolf survives,” said Joseph Cook of the American Society of Mammalogists. “Small populations with limited genetic variability often suffer from the consequences of inbreeding depression, Small populations with limited genetic variability also are generally less resilient to changing environmental conditions and less resistant to the introduction of novel pathogens.”

According to the latest census number, 110 wolves, including just eight breeding pairs, live in the combined Gila National Forest in New Mexico and Apache National Forest and Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona. Fewer than 15 wolves live in the wild in Mexico.

“When you have only a handful of founders and limited genetics to recover a species, you cannot afford to take your time with recovery efforts,” said Maggie Howell of the Wolf Conservation Center, which houses and breeds Mexican wolves for reintroduction. “The wolves are ready and the wild is calling. It’s time to release some lobos.”

“Mexican wolves are part of the natural heritage of all Americans,” said Mary Katherine Ray of the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande chapter. “The Endangered Species Act, which requires the protection and recovery of imperiled animals, continues to be a very popular national law. Though a vocal minority at the state level is attempting to obstruct the return of wolves to the Southwest, the Fish and Wildlife Service should proceed to release more wolves to safeguard their still fragile population.”

“As the principal agency responsible for ensuring lobo recovery, U.S. the Fish and Wildlife Service cannot sit idly by while one state’s anti-carnivore rhetoric and political scheming attempts to obstruct reintroduction efforts,” said Kelly Nokes, carnivore campaign lead for WildEarth Guardians. “It is past time that Service takes control and carries out its duty to recover lobos in New Mexico, as the Endangered Species Act demands.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began reintroducing Mexican wolves in 1998 but only permitted itself to release wolves from captive breeding facilities into a small portion of the Apache National Forest, whose most productive habitats were quickly occupied by wolf families, leaving little room for additional releases.

This past January the Fish and Wildlife Service expanded the area where captive-bred wolves could be released to include the 3.3-million-acre Gila National Forest. The Gila is the fourth-largest national forest in the country and encompasses the world’s first official wilderness area, designated in 1924, that was protected from construction of roads. The Gila also supports thousands of deer, elk and other animals on which wolves prey, thereby overall strengthening such animals’ herds and preventing overgrazing. Yet more than half of this national forest has no wolves.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The American Society of Mammalogists is a non-profit, professional, scientific and educational Society consisting of nearly 3,000 members from all 50 of the United States and 60 other countries worldwide. The American Society of Mammalogists was founded in 1919 and is the world’s oldest and largest organization devoted to the study of mammals.

The Wolf Conservation Center is an environmental education organization committed to conserving wolf populations in North America through science-based education programming and participation in the federal Species Survival Plans for the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf and red wolf. For more information visit

WildEarth Guardians is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and the health of the American West.

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Yellowstone: The “little space” wolves were given in 1995 and 1996 when the federal government gave the green light to return wolves to portions of their native range in the West.  The reintroduction of gray wolves to our first national park has been described as a near-miracle, having occurred at one of those rare moments when stars align in the political sky. A wildlife conservation effort with such positive environmental impact (and ongoing controversy) will likely go unmatched for a long time. But with the support of the American public almost two decades ago, a new chapter in Yellowstone’s history began, with a homecoming that changed the Park.

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Do you feel like scientific work is too politicized? Based on its own employees’ assessments, 73% of scientists working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) reported that the agency gives too much weight to political interests.

A new report released today by Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), Progress and Problems: Government Scientists Report on Scientific Integrity at Four Agencies, reveals results of a survey of 7,000 scientists at four federal agencies—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The survey asked scientists about scientific integrity, communications, and agency effectiveness.

A significant number of scientists (46 to 73 percent of respondents across agencies) reported that political interests at their agencies were given too much weight in their agencies.  At 73% ,USFWS is the agency with the biggest problems with scientific integrity.  Many scientists told UCS that scientific decisions were being swayed by politics or that political influence inhibited their ability to carry out agency missions.  One respondent from NOAA said that scientific integrity could best be improved if the agency could “stop giving in to political and industry pressure when making scientific decisions.”

You can also find the report methodology, results, comparison with past UCS surveys, all of the open-ended responses to questions, and the survey instrument all online at

Read more here.

USFWS: The Federal Agency Charged With Conserving Endangered Species

Science has concluded that we have entered an unprecedented period of climate change and human-caused Sixth Mass extinction. Today we are faced with the growing challenge of helping imperiled species heal and flourish and supporting biodiversity for future generations. To succeed, it’s essential that science drives Endangered Species Act decisions, not backroom politics.

Despite its success and public support, the ESA is under attack like never before. Some members of Congress have introduced dozens of legislative proposals that seek to gut the ESA, block its protections for wolves, other imperiled species and habitat, and obstruct our ability to enforce this federal law.

Please urge your congressional representative and senators to preserve the spirit and integrity of this robust federal law and to oppose any legislation that takes aim at imperiled wildlife!

Take Action Today

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Eleven year-old Peyton from New Hampshire is running a half marathon on October 4th to raise awareness for wolves and support the Wolf Conservation Center!

Peyton has felt a strong connection to wolves ever since he watched an episode of the Wild Kratts 4 years ago. He learned that wolves are loyal, family oriented, and have an aptitude for running long distances. But, he was alarmed to hear that some wolves remain critically endangered.

After seeing his mom run the Marine Corps Marathon to support 96 Elephants, and his older sister earn a spot as Nickelodeon’s spokesperson for environmental awareness, Peyton knew he wanted to do something for the wolves. Running was a natural fit!

Please join the WCC and throw back your head and let out a long supportive howl for Peyton – an inspirational kiddo who exemplifies the amazing potential of his generation to make this world a better place!

Please visit Peyton’s CrowdRise page to support his effort!

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In another blow for Mexican gray wolf recovery, the New Mexico Game Commission, under Governor Susana Martinez, voted unanimously today to DENY the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) permission to release wolves in the Gila National Forest. New Mexico Game and Fish withdrew its support for the Mexican wolf program in 2011. Now, the Commission and Department are refusing to allow any Mexican gray wolves to be released from captivity into the wild.

The state’s Game Commission and it’s agenda is clearly out of step with the majority of New Mexico voters who support wolf recovery and is pushing the critically endangered lobo even closer to extinction.

Do you think it’s time for USFWS to exercise its federal authority to ensure the recovery of endangered Mexican gray wolves? What say you?

Read more via Center for Biological Diversity.

The Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) or “lobo” is the most genetically distinct lineage of wolves in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the most endangered mammals in North America. By the mid-1980s, hunting, trapping, and poisoning caused the extinction of lobos in the wild, with only a handful remaining in captivity. In 1998 the wolves were reintroduced into the wild as part of a federal reintroduction program under the Endangered Species Act. Today in the U.S., there is a single wild population comprising only 109 individuals.

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