The Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), also known as the lobo, was once a highly regarded creature. In recent times, this gray wolf subspecies has been brought to the brink of extinction.
There are less than 200 in the wild, with a slightly higher number in captivity breeding programs. Ranchers aren’t happy with these conservation programs and have often been vocal in their desire to eliminate wolves from all ranching sites.
“This killing spree shows us how little has changed in the mindset of wolf managers since the days of federal wolf extermination a century ago,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Fish and Wildlife Service would rather shoot wolves than require ranchers to protect their animals on public lands. And sickeningly, some stockowners seem to look at losing cattle, and collecting reimbursements for those deaths, as worthwhile if it results in wolf killings that undermine Mexican gray wolves’ precarious recovery.”
The problem was revealed in three surreptitious memos that were written between March 3 and March 24. In the memos, the Fish and Wildlife Service writes that they killed three wolves as they were attacking local ranchers’ cattle.
But that might not be telling the full story.
“Killing critically endangered Mexican gray wolves has never been a credible recovery strategy, and today we dishearteningly learn that the USFWS will fall right back into it, despite years of collaborative science, education, and cooperative stewardship efforts to mitigate and prevent livestock losses,” said Kelly Burke, executive director of Wild Arizona. “Let’s get back on track and truly recover the lobo through meaningful science-based actions.”
It’s a new conflict, but an old storyline. Many ranches have routinely used state-contracted range riders to ward off wolves, but this isn’t a foolproof method to avoid all problems. Part of the problem comes from a subset of ranchers Chris Smith of WildEarth Guardians, an environmental non-profit group. This minority of ranchers recklessly graze cattle in areas where wolves are active. They also hire non-governmental trappers which put even more pressure on the pack. It is reported that the pack where the wolves were killed started attacking cattle only after this happened.
“It is absurd that the onus for coexistence is placed on these endangered, native wolves rather than on subsidized public-lands ranchers who have introduced cattle where they don’t belong,” said Chris Smith of WildEarth Guardians. “A subset of ranchers who would rather have native species killed than improve their livestock management is literally calling the shots for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”