Interior Secretary Salazar Urged to Restart Mexican Wolf Releases Into Wild and Allow Direct Releases Into New Mexico

Obama Administration Has Yet to Release Any New Wolves; Wild Population Suffering From Inbreeding

SILVER CITY, N.M.— On the 14th anniversary of the reintroduction of endangered Mexican gray wolves to the wild in the Southwest, the Southwest Environmental Center and 29 other conservation organizations, scientists, and animal-protection and sportsmen groups urged Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to release Mexican wolves from the captive-breeding program into the wild this year since no release has occurred since 2008. The letter also asks Salazar to allow the release of captive-bred wolves to New Mexico, which is currently prohibited.

Read the full text of the letter here.

Both measures would help stop the loss of genetic diversity among Mexican wolves in the wild, increasing the chance that this unique but highly vulnerable gray wolf subspecies may recover. Only 58 wolves, including just six breeding pairs, were counted in the wild in January 2012. The letter to Salazar documents that inbreeding may be lowering the number of pups that are born and survive.

“Time is running out for endangered Mexican wolves," said Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center. “After more than a decade of bureaucratic inaction, wolves cannot wait any longer. We are calling on Secretary Salazar and the Fish and Wildlife Service to take immediate action to get more wolves on the ground before this magnificent creature goes extinct in the wild — for the second time in living memory, only this time it will be government bureaucrats not trappers that are the cause of its demise.”

Releases of wolves from the captive-breeding pool, whose animals have never before lived in the wild, can only occur in Arizona. Releases of wolves captured in the wild may take place in Arizona and New Mexico. But in light of illegal killings of wolves and inbreeding, biologists and the Fish and Wildlife Service itself have recommended a rule change to allow the more numerous captive-bred wolves to be released into the remote portion of the bi-state recovery area, in the Gila National Forest of New Mexico. The Obama administration has continued to stall for time on that rule change.

“President Obama’s government has failed to release even a single Mexican wolf from the captive-breeding program,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Scientists have practically begged the bureaucrats to release more wolves, to no avail. So we’re now asking Secretary Ken Salazar for his personal attention and quick action to rescue the inbred Mexican wolf population by releasing more wolves.”

“Wolves help protect streamside vegetation from overgrazing by elk, as the experience in Yellowstone National Park shows,” said Donna Stevens, a botanist who is executive director of the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance. “We need more Mexican wolves not just for their own sake and to ensure this unique animal’s survival, but also for the health of the entire ecosystem.”

The 1998 reintroduction of Mexican wolves to Arizona and New Mexico was projected to result in 102 wolves, including 18 breeding pairs, in the wild by the end of 2006, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s environmental impact statement on the reintroduction. No recovery goal has yet been established for the Mexican wolf.