ALBUQUERQUE – Scientists and wild animal advocates are calling on federal authorities to release at least five packs of Mexican gray wolves into New Mexico’s Gila National Forest to preserve the endangered species.
Mary Katherine Ray, wildlife chair of the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club, says the move is necessary to avoid inbreeding among the last 110 wolves living in the U.S.
She says scientists and 43 conservation organizations sent a sent a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell after state officials failed to act.
“Actually, New Mexico has a law that requires the state to recover endangered species,” Ray points out. “And the gray wolf is a New Mexico state-listed endangered species, as well as a federally listed one.”
Some ranchers and hunters maintain increasing the number of wolves in the Gila National Forest could lead to loss of livestock and elk.
Ray says this small but vocal group has managed to convince the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to refuse a permit allowing the release.
She argues livestock losses have been minimal and can be mitigated, and that wolves play a critical role thinning elk herds and making sure diseases are kept in check.
Ray notes inbreeding among the Mexican wolf’s wild population is causing fewer pups to be born and fewer to survive to adulthood.
She says the longer officials delay the release of new wolves to increase genetic variation, the harder it will be to ensure the long-term survival of the species.
“Wolves are really important to the integrity of wild places, and it’s our fault they’re not there,” she stresses. “So I think we have an obligation to bring them back, and I think that’s why the Endangered Species Act is so popular.”
The Mexican wolf, also known as El Lobo, is the smallest subspecies of the gray wolf and the most endangered wolf in the world.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began reintroducing Mexican wolves, bred in captivity, in 1998. Wolves currently populate less than half of the 3.3 million acre Gila National Forest.