Local & Regional News

We are family: Wolf recovery effort finds wild wolves almost all brothers and sisters

Payson Roundup (Original) Posted March 7, 2017 by Peter Aleshire

Right now, roughly 100 Mexican gray wolves roam the wilds of Arizona and New Mexico.

From a genetic point of view, they’re almost all brothers and sisters.

And that worries the federal biologists charged with establishing a self-sustaining wild population of wolves in the Southwest.

It also largely explains the sometimes-controversial strategies the biologists are using to bolster the wild packs — and a plan to release additional wolf packs in Rim Country — hundreds of miles from the remote release sites they’ve used so far.

Biologists say the wolves face a genetic bottleneck, which will leave them prone to assorted diseases and mutations, reducing the long-term odds of their survival.

All the known Mexican gray wolves in the world are descended from the last seven of their kind captured in the wild. Those seven wolves gave rise to the captive breeding program that has produced new wolves released into the wild since 1998.

But most of the wolves now in the wild are descended from a single female, who was among the first wolves released.

The direct descendants of the matriarch of the Bluestem Pack, affectionately known as breeding female F521, dominate the wild packs.

Of the 70 wolves in the wild whose genetics are known, only four — all males — did not descend from that female founder of the line.

That means when any two breeding age wild wolves set up housekeeping — 83 percent will have both parents descended from the Bluestem Pack. The other 17 percent will have one parent descended from that fabled pack.

So that means the future success of the reintroduction program depends on continuing to introduce new genetic combinations from the captive-reared population.

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Wolf number up, genetic diversity still problematic

White Mountain Independent (Original) Posted February 24, 2017 by Trudy Balcom

APACHE COUNTY — The annual census of the Mexican gray wolf population is complete, and it shows an uptick in the number of wild wolves across eastern Arizona and western New Mexico.

Last year’s count showed a minimum of 97 wild wolves across the region; this year 113 wolves were counted between November and February, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) press release issued Feb. 17.

This is the largest number of wolves documented in the count since wolf reintroduction first began in 1998.

The count is conducted by field biologists on the ground, using radio and GPS collar data, and with aerial surveys conducted by helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft. The number issued at the completion of the count is called a “minimum.”

“A minimum count is the number of wolves we visibly saw; we know there are more wolves out there, but we don’t have a maximum number,” explained John Bradley, public information officer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The count documented a total of 21 wolf packs, with at least 50 wolves in New Mexico and 63 in Arizona. A total of 50 surviving wild-born wolf pups born in 2016 were part of the total population count.

A net growth in the population of at least 16 wolves is in line with goals for the recovery of the wolf in the wild.

“Our goal is to achieve an average annual growth rate of 10 percent in the Mexican wolf population,” said Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, Southwest regional director for USFWS in the press release.

Population numbers for the wolves have fluctuated since 1998. A milestone of 100 wolves was first reached in 2010, when 110 wolves were counted. In 2015, the number dropped back to 97. Even though the count is completed in February, the number of wolves counted is attributed to the previous year, so the numbers for the count completed earlier this month will be designated as the 2016 count.

Eleven wolf deaths from 2016 are under investigation by the USFWS law enforcement agency, according to the press release.

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Mexican wolf numbers bounce back

Arizona Daily Sun (Original) Posted on February 18, 2017 by Emery Cowan

The number of Mexican wolves living in Arizona and New Mexico has reached its highest level since efforts to reintroduce the endangered animals into the wild began in 1998.

The latest count found there are at least 113 Mexican wolves in the wild, up from 97 counted in 2015.

A higher survival rate of wild-born pups is the main factor in this year’s higher numbers, said John Bradley, spokesman with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The count found that 50 wild-born pups had survived through the end of 2016, compared to 23 the year before.

Wildlife officials called the most recent numbers encouraging after 2015, when counts found 13 fewer wolves than the year before. Before that, counts showed five years of positive population growth.

But wolf managers still have more work to do, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle said in a statement. The agency’s goal is to achieve an average annual growth rate of 10 percent in the Mexican wolf population.

Friday's wolf count comes on the heels of a proposal from the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team to release additional captive wolf packs and wolf pups into the wild this year. The infusion of new blood is needed to increase genetic diversity among the animals, which currently are as related to one another as full siblings.

The plan calls for introducing two wolf packs now in captivity into wilderness areas in western New Mexico. That part won't move forward without a court ruling though. Wolf releases in the state are on hold while a federal appeals court decides a case filed by New Mexico and 18 other states challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s implementation of the Endangered Species Act within their borders.

In Arizona, the plan for this year doesn’t include any proposed adult wolf releases, but does call for the cross foster of up to six wolf pups.

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Feds: 14 endangered Mexican wolves found dead in 2016

The Arizona Republic (Original) Published on January 4, 2017 by Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — More than a dozen endangered Mexican gray wolves were killed in 2016, including two at the hands of wildlife officials who were capturing and collaring the animals as part of an annual survey of the struggling population.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed this week that 14 wolf deaths were documented last year, marking the most in any single year since the federal government began reintroducing the predators in New Mexico and Arizona in 1998.

Many of the cases remain under investigation. But federal officials have acknowledged that illegal killings have been a problem over the years and will likely continue as the wolf population grows and the animals disperse into other areas of the Southwest.

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Our View: Beware of congressmen in pro-wolf clothing

Arizona Republic (Original) Posted August 17, 2016 by the Editorial Board

Editorial: Don't buy Arizona politicians' attempts to "help" Mexican gray wolves. They are anything but helpful.

Beware of politicians in wolves’ clothing.

Two congressional efforts to seize control of the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program may pretend to be wolf-friendly. They aren’t.

The first is being pushed by Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar and New Mexico Republican Rep. Steve Pearce. Both previously have sought to kick the Mexican gray wolf off the endangered-species list.

Now, they are behind an amendment to the Interior Department appropriations bill that would defund the federal wolf-recovery effort. Pearce says states could do a better job.

Wolves are worse off? Not true

The federal reintroduction effort began in the late 1990s and has included state involvement. It raised the population of Mexican gray wolves in the wild from zero to 97 at last count.

Gosar says the endangered species of wolf “is no better off today than it was 20 years ago,” according to a story by The Arizona Republic’s Brandon Loomis.

Not true. The species is 97 times better off. And that’s because of a federally run effort that is guided by the federal Endangered Species Act, which established species diversity as a national value.

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