Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Mexican wolf?
The Mexican wolf, Canis lupus bailey is the rarest, smallest, southernmost and most genetically distinct subspecies of the North American gray wolf. Mexican wolves typically weigh 50 to 80 pounds and measure about 5 1/2 feet from nose to tail (about the size of an adult German shepherd). They have a distinctive, richly colored coat consisting of a mixture of buff, gray, rust, tan and black. Like other wolves, Mexican wolves have a complex social structure and live in extended family groups, consisting of an adult mated pair and their offspring. Wolves hunt cooperatively to bring down prey animals, usually much larger than themselves. Larger-sized native prey for Mexican wolves includes elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer.
How did the Mexican wolf become endangered?
Intensive predator removal efforts from the late-1800s to the early 1900s extirpated the Mexican wolf from the wild in the portion of its range found in the United States. The Mexican wolf was listed as “endangered” on the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Species in 1976. Its presence in the wild in Mexico has not been confirmed since 1980.
What is the reintroduction plan?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), in cooperation with the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD), the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF), USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services (WS) and USDA Forest Service (USFS), began releasing captive-reared Mexican wolves into the designated “primary recovery zone” in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests in east-central Arizona in 1998. Released wolves and their progeny have been designated a nonessential experimental population under a special provision of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This area is referred to as the “Mexican Wolf Experimantal Population Area.”
In the beginning of Mexican Wolf recovery efforts, the population was made up of captive-born wolves, but as they reproduced in the wild, a greater portion of the population became wild-born. Since 2014, 100% of the wild population in the U.S. has been wild born individuals with adult offspring are dispersing and forming new pairs on their own, which is a good indication of a healthy wolf population. The Mexican wolf is currently on it’s way to recovery with the wild population in the U.S. exhibiting a population growth averaging 16% annually since 2009.
Why was the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area (MWEPA) selected for reintroduction of Mexican wolves?
The Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area (MWEPA), consisting of the Apache portion of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests and the Gila National Forest in west-central New Mexico, has a large, multi-species native prey base, is resilient to drought, and contains over 6,000 square miles of habitat for wolves to thrive.
What is an experimental population?
The Endangered Species Act provides for the designation of reintroduced populations of threatened or endangered species as “experimental populations” and for the further designation of these populations as “essential” or “nonessential” to the continued existence of the species. Congress added this provision to the Act in 1982 to increase management flexibility during reintroductions of listed species. For nonessential experimental populations, consultation provisions of the Act are relaxed and limited taking (e.g., harassing, capturing or killing) of individual animals can be authorized in a special regulation. This helps the USFWS to mitigate specific impacts, respond to particular needs of the reintroduced population, and address concerns of local citizens. For example, major land-use restrictions are not imposed, livestock depredation situations can be addressed immediately, and wolves can be moved, if necessary, without any additional permits (as would be required if the wolves were to retain their “endangered” status).
What was the historical range of the Mexican wolf?
Mexican wolf historical range included the Sierra Madre Occidental in Mexico (90%), and southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico in the USA (10%). The AZGFD agrees with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recognition of historical range as originally defined in a 1996 paper by Dave Parsons, which was already a 200-mile extension of core historical range to include the area of intergrade with the larger northern Plains Wolf. This range was later adopted by the Service, and more recently (2017) clarified in a peer-reviewed scientific paper. Some attempts have been made to use poorly understood genetic markers to expand Mexican wolf historical range as far north as Nebraska and as far west as California. These extensions are not supported by the best available science and contradict the abrupt change in wolf morphology, vegetation associations, ecological zones, prey differences, and multi-species ecological concordance that defines the Mexican wolf.
Is there suitable habitat in Mexico to recover the Mexican wolf?
A state-of-the-art habitat analysis has just been completed by Mexican experts using the latest geospatial tools and analytical methods showing large areas of high quality habitat in historical range in Mexico. Past recovery planning efforts failed to adequately and objectively evaluate all historical range for suitable Mexican wolf habitat before inappropriately planning for recovery efforts outside historical range. This important shortcoming of past recovery teams has been rectified with this analysis. The proximity of large blocks of quality habitat in both countries and the recent migrations of two wolves from Mexico to the U.S. show natural connectivity is currently present.
Why not release Mexican wolves in the Grand Canyon or Utah or Colorado?
Planning recovery of Mexican wolves north of their historical range is problematic and may impede successful recovery because of legal, ecological, and genetic reasons. Section 10(j) regulations of the Endangered Species Act direct us to recover within historical range unless that primary habitat has been “unsuitably and irreversibly altered or destroyed” (50 C.F.R. §17.81(a)). That is not the case as the recent analysis of Mexican wolf habitat in Mexico shows. Additionally, the concept “representation” is one of the foundational principles of endangered species recovery (i.e., 3 R’s) that guide the recovery of listed animals so they are represented in the diverse ecological settings in which they were originally found. “Representation” could not be satisfied without meaningful recovery in the Madrean Pine-Oak Woodlands of the Sierra Madre of Mexico. In a related sense, any desire to recover Mexican wolves in a significant portion of their range could not be accomplished solely in the United States.
More importantly than these legal or policy constraints are the genetic and ecological repercussions of allowing premature genetic exchange with Northwestern wolves (C. l. occidentalis) from the Rocky Mountains. Eventual genetic interchange is inevitable and desirable post-recovery, but several Northwestern wolves have already temporarily dispersed into areas previously recommended for Mexican wolf recovery. Allowing establishment of Mexican wolves north of their historical range before they are recovered, may lead to harmful intraspecific hybridization. If Northwestern wolves come to occupy Mexican wolf recovery areas, these physically larger wolves would dominate smaller Mexican wolves and quickly occupy breeding positions, as will their hybrid offspring. Comparatively large Northwestern wolf immigrants entering into a Mexican wolf population with higher inbreeding levels and smaller packs with more social disruption would be more likely to dominate breeding positions than to be quietly absorbed into the gene pool. Directing Mexican wolf recovery northward outside historical range threatens the genetic integrity and recovery of the subspecies by jeopardizing the unique characteristics for which the Mexican wolf remains listed as a separate entity.
Won’t climate change mean Mexican wolves might have to be recovered farther north to compensate?
This has been suggested periodically, but no one has offered a credible justification for why Mexican wolves can’t be recovered within their historical range in the face of climate change. So far climate change has accelerated fire frequency and intensity as well as increased beetle infestations and tree mortality. These effects have produced profoundly positive habitat changes for ungulate prey (deer and elk) in the Southwest. The current Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan draft concluded climate change is not a threat to Mexican wolf recovery in their historical range. Wolves currently inhabit regions where temperatures range from -100 to +100°F and use habitats as varied as the Arabian Peninsula to the Arctic Circle. It is unlikely climate change will unsuitably alter or destroy habitat in Mexican wolf historical range within a timeframe relevant to recovery planning.
Will inbreeding problems cause the failure to recover the Mexican wolf?
The Department appreciates that genetic diversity could be an issue for Mexican wolves in the future, but the current robust population growth shows it is not a threat to recovery. A new updated analysis to determine if inbreeding depression significantly affects litter size represents an improvement over previous work done a decade ago. Previous analysis from the last recovery planning process (2010-2013) used only 9 years (1998-2006) of data and 39 litters, but the updated analysis benefitted from an updated dataset containing 89 litters spanning 17 years (1998-2014). This updated analysis includes the most recent 8 years and found no significant effect on litter size from inbreeding with differs from the older analysis.
This fresh look at inbreeding and litter size represents the best and most currently available data with which to guide Mexican wolf recovery. We support the continued work to retain genetic diversity on a working landscape with the use of cross-fostering as a viable way to infuse under-represented genetics into the wild population. Cross-fostering minimizes the erosion of social tolerance due to negative behaviors often associated with the release of captive-raised adults as documented by the a recent peer-reviewed publication . The Department recognizes the importance of genetic diversity in Mexican wolf recovery and will continue to advocate for appropriate actions to minimize loss of genetic diversity.
What is an experimental population?
The Endangered Species Act provides for the designation of reintroduced populations of threatened or endangered species as “experimental populations.” Congress added this provision to the Act in 1982 to increase management flexibility during reintroductions of listed species. For nonessential experimental populations, consultation provisions of the Act are relaxed and limited taking (e.g., harassing, capturing or killing) of individual animals can be authorized in a special regulation. This helps the USFWS to mitigate specific impacts, respond to particular needs of the reintroduced population, and address concerns of local citizens. For example, major land-use restrictions are not imposed, livestock depredation situations can be addressed immediately.
Are wolves adequately protected with the nonessential experimental designation?
Nonessential experimental Mexican wolves are still protected under the ESA. The special rules for the nonessential experimental population are very specific as to if, when, and how management actions can be taken to control wolves that kill livestock. Also, the designation allows for greater management flexibility to capture, monitor or translocate animals. Wolf recovery on working landscape would be difficult or impossible without management flexibility to integrate wolves with human populations and livestock production. Selective control of individual wolves that repeatedly kill livestock encourages wolf populations that focus on wild prey and fosters tolerance of wolves by livestock producers and the public. This increases public support for wolves and enhances the success of recovery efforts.
What are some reintroduction techniques that are used?
Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project personnel are committed to adaptive management for wolf recovery. This means that all management techniques are evaluated continually and, if necessary, revised.
All adult wolves released were fitted with radio collars prior to their transfer to the acclimation pens. During the acclimation period, the wolves are fed road-killed native prey. Once released, the wolves are monitored closely and a concerted effort is made to keep one radio-collared wolf in each pack to continue to monitor their progress.
How are released wolves monitored?
All wolves released are fitted with radio collars. Systematic telemetry surveys are conducted almost daily by land or air to monitor locations and activities of released wolves.
Does wolf reintroduction affect private land?
With the permission of a landowner, the USFWS can provide assistance for managing or controlling damage caused by wolves. Although livestock owners and their agents will be allowed to kill wolves that are attacking livestock on their private lands, anyone may harass a wolf away from them and their property without injuring it. A person may kill, injure or harass a wolf in defense of human life, but it must be reported to the proper authorities within 24 hours.
Will land-use restrictions be necessary under the reintroduction plan?
The Project reintroduction plan contains no land-use restrictions or prohibitions on private and tribal lands and no major restrictions on public lands. If needed, certain uses can be temporarily restricted on public lands within one mile of release pens, dens and rendezvous sites (specific areas packs use after they leave the den). Outside these few, small areas where temporary restrictions may be imposed, traditional uses of public lands, such as logging, grazing, mining, military activities, hunting, hiking and camping will be unaffected by Mexican wolf reintroduction.
Can livestock producers be compensated for livestock killed by wolves?
The federal government does not pay direct compensation for livestock losses. However, a private conservation group, Defenders of Wildlife, has established a fund to compensate livestock producers up to market value for documented losses due to wolves. This fund has been operation in the northern Rocky Mountain region since 1987 and in the Southwest since 1998. Visit www.defenders.org/wolfcomp.html for more information or call (520) 623-9653.
Do captive-reared wolves successfully adapt to the wild?
Captive-raised wolves released to the wild are more prone to get into conflicts; 56 of 90 confirmed nuisance incidents from 1998 to 2012 were caused by captive– raised or –conditioned wolves. In 9 cases where captive–raised or –conditioned wolves were released to the wild, 8 failed to produce offspring that lived more than 1 year. Consequently, wolves in recent years that spent more than just a few months in captivity have rarely contributed new genetic material to the wild population. Captive–raised animals may also unduly jeopardize recovery efforts as their actions reduce public support and complicate joint federal and state recovery coordination. We therefore see the potential for the release of large numbers of naïve captive-born wolves to do more harm than good.
How will other wildlife populations be affected by wolves?
Predator-prey interactions are extremely complex and generally require long-term study; however, some general statements can be made. Wolves and other predators do not cause their prey to go extinct, but can cause unacceptable impacts to native prey populations. The Arizona Game and Fish Department is responsible for managing native predator and prey populations and one cannot be done to the exclusion of the other.
Are wolves dangerous to humans?
Although attacks by wolves on humans do occur, they are extremely rare in North America. Wolves, like any other animal, may occasionally develop some level of habituation to humans and human activity. However, observation of wolves in proximity to humans or man-made structures does not mean that wolves are likely to attack. The risk of wolf attacks across the world is very low. The majority of wolf attacks that have occurred resulted from situations involving rabid wolves; wolves habituated to humans (such as being fed by humans at campgrounds or near settlements); or provoked wolves (wolves that were beaten or attempted to be killed) and most attacks are simply attempts by the wolves to get away. Domestic dogs, pet wolves and wolf-dog hybrids are responsible for killing many people every year in North America. Wolves and wolf-dog hybrids kept as pets can be unpredictable and dangerous.
A person may always kill, injure or harass a wolf in defense of human life, but the action must be reported within 24 hours to the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s 24-hour dispatch, Operation Game Thief at 1-800-352-0700.
Do wolves pose a danger to my pets?
To protect both the pet and wildlife, pets should always be carefully monitored by their owners in areas where they may encounter native wildlife, such as national forests or parks. Unsupervised dogs that stray into wolf territories from their owner’s homes or from their handlers are at risk of wolf attack. Wolves may treat dogs as interlopers on their territories and can be very aggressive towards them, especially during denning season (April through May).
Bear and lion hunters who hunt with dogs may wish to contact Project personnel to receive additional information on wolf locations before running dogs in the MWEPA at (888) 459-9653.
Note that it is illegal to kill or injure a wolf attacking your pet dog or cat.
How is the public kept informed of the status and progress of the Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project?
Project personnel are committed to an open and transparent dialogue with local communities and other interested parties as Mexican wolf reintroduction continues to move forward. Project personnel produce a written monthly Project Update for the public which is posted on the USFWS and AZGFD Web sites. They also provide weekly aerial telemetry flight locations for Mexican wolves and maps of these locations on the same Web sites. Biologists provide presentations and participate in other public forums that facilitate communication between project staff and affected communities. Information and interaction activities are developed with input from the public and evaluated with the objective of addressing current needs and concerns.
Does the Interagency Field Team (IFT) investigate all wolf kills of cattle?
The IFT investigates all suspected or reported wolf depredations and wolf-human conflicts immediately and reports the results appropriately, in strict accordance with the Project’s Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 11.0, Depredation on Domestic Livestock and Pets. SOP 11.0 directs USDA Wildlife Services (WS) IFT members to respond within 24 hours to each incident or allegation of wolf-livestock conflict, and other IFT members will provide assistance as requested, appropriate and/or necessary. Even before finalization of SOP 11.0, the Project’s 5-year review found the average IFT response time was less than 24 hours to arrive on scene of a reported depredation. Non-WS IFT members, with assistance from WS IFT members as available and appropriate, handle wolf-human conflicts involving attacks on pets or domestic animals, other than livestock, and other nuisance behavior as defined within SOP 13.0, Control of Mexican Wolves.
Does the IFT report wolf kills of cattle?
The IFT has reported and continues to report all depredations found from the air during weekly radio-telemetry flights or during on-the-ground monitoring activities. The IFT has found and reported dead livestock consistently throughout the years, with most of the depredations being initially discovered by the IFT.
Per SOP 11.0, Depredation on Domestic Livestock and Pets, all livestock carcasses that the IFT finds are left in the area and are reported to the appropriate livestock operator. At a minimum, the IFT reports the dead animal to the permittees via phone or often makes the report in person. The IFT works diligently towards finding remains of all prey items taken by Mexican wolves and reports them accordingly. With livestock owner permission, the IFT has removed, or otherwise made unavailable to wolves, some cattle carcasses.
Do Mexican wolves have to be fed so that they will survive?
Guidelines for the extent and duration of supplemental feeding are provided within SOP 8.0, Supplemental Feeding. The IFT has provided “carnivore logs,” made for captive carnivores, and carcasses of road-killed ungulates to wolves following initial releases or translocations. This is kept to a minimum and was generally done for one to two months following the release/translocation of adults. In addition, the IFT sometimes baits wolves in association with control or trapping actions, when wolf deaths or injuries require temporary supplemental feeding to sustain surviving wolves (especially females shortly before or after giving birth to pups), or in cases where diversionary food sources is used to reduce depredation on domestic livestock. Outside of these specific instances, the IFT does not feed wolves.
What Should I do if I See a Mexican wolf that looks sick?
Like most mammals, wolves shed hair during the late spring and summer. The public sometimes reports wolves as being diseased, sick or skinny during this period, especially if the wolves are wet. While it is true Mexican wolves can look thin with a rough coat during these times, often the same pack may have animals that are described as big and healthy during winter periods. It is important to recognize that Mexican wolves are somewhat smaller than their northern counterparts, and they rarely look as well-groomed and fed as captive wolves seen on TV and in other mass media.
Are the animals present in MWEPA true wolves or hybrids?
According to scientists, there are three known pure lineages of the Mexican wolf: McBride, Ghost Ranch and Aragon. Geneticists have verified on several occasions that each of the three lineages consist of purebred Mexican wolves, as do all wolves currently on the landscape. Regarding the free-ranging population, there have been two incidents of Mexican wolf-dog hybrid litters conceived in the wild, one occurring in New Mexico and the other on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona.
The IFT humanely euthanized both litters after genetic testing verified they were Mexican wolf-dog hybrids. Both cases involved a female Mexican wolf breeding with a male dog. Aside from the two hybrid litters that have been discovered, there is no physical or genetic evidence to date to suggest hybridization with dogs or other canids is occurring in the free-ranging Mexican wolf population. Genetic testing and analysis of all captured animals will continue to be an important component of the Mexican wolf recovery program. Project personnel will continue to investigate genetic data and determine if introgression of either domestic dog or coyote genes has occurred within the Mexican wolf population.
Can Mexican wolves kill elk?
Although the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) suggested that deer would be the primary prey for Mexican wolves, scat analysis shows that wolves are principally killing and feeding upon elk. Since the first Mexican wolves were released in 1998 and successfully preyed upon elk within three weeks of release. Monitoring by the IFT and independent researchers has demonstrated that wolves prey upon all sex and age classes of elk, but primarily the youngest and oldest age classes, and therefore are fully capable of killing live elk when necessary.
Does the IFT shoot elk to feed the wolves?
Unequivocally, the IFT does not kill elk to feed wolves. Elk that die from other causes (primarily road kill) may sometimes be salvaged for supplemental food for wolves, pursuant to SOP 9.0, Road Kill Salvage. s. Residents who discover an elk that they feel was killed as the result of illegal activities should report it to their local wildlife manager or call the Game Thief Hotline (800-352-0700). The wildlife manager will follow up with an investigation. If any IFT member were involved, they would suffer the same penalty as any other member of the public and would be subject to additional disciplinary action by their agency, including termination.
Do agency personnel report accurate, timely locations of the wolves?
Concerns about timely flow of appropriate information were significant elements of agency and public comment during the 3-year review, and changes to SOPs and field staff capacity and direction were modified as a result. In addition, the IFT responded to all calls from local residents requesting information. These e-mails and calls consisted of locations relative to geographic areas on the landscape. The locations provided were intentionally vague during the wolf denning season, and generally only described the distance from one map point instead of two during this time frame. The IFT is available for follow-up calls or any phone call from the public regarding locations at 1-888-459-9653. Individuals have in some instances suggested that the location information should be given in a more timely fashion, or that the information was not accurate. In such cases, the IFT now works with the individuals to ensure that communication is improved. However, the IFT does not contact individuals who do not have wolves on or near their allotment or private land. Further, the IFT does not routinely give locations to individuals who do not request the information from the IFT. Permittees or private residents that request the information and have a demonstrable need (i.e., wolves on their allotment) for the information are routinely contacted. The IFT is consistently searching for improvements in the methodology and carefully considers requests.
Do Mexican wolves always remain at initial release sites and within wilderness area boundaries?
Throughout the period when reintroduction was first discussed with the public, agency representatives spoke consistently and forthrightly about the likelihood that if wolves were reintroduced, some would likely localize and others might travel hundreds of miles. Mexican wolf packs range over large areas (on average about 200-square miles) and individual wolves can disperse hundreds of miles. As predicted, some wolves have established home ranges in areas in which they were released, while others have moved into other areas to establish a home range. This information was well known about wolves prior to the reintroduction of Mexican wolves. No promises were ever made that that wolves would be restricted to local areas. Wolves are allowed to exist anywhere within the MWEPA boundary. The IFT is, however, required to capture packs that establish territories wholly outside the MWEPA per the Final EIS published in 2015.
Are there any plans to translocate northern gray wolves into Arizona from the northern Rocky Mountain populations?
There are no plans to translocate Northwestern wolves originating from Canada (C. l. occidentalis) into Arizona. The Mexican wolf subspecies (Canis lupus baileyi) is what is listed (separately) as endangered on the Endangered Species List and therefore the only wolf subspecies being reintroduced into Arizona.). This subspecies is unique compared to other wolves in North America. It currently only exists in the wild in MWEPA and northern Mexico. There are nearly 300 Mexican wolves housed in captivity within the Species Survival Program’s network of zoos and captive breeding facilities located across the U.S. and in Mexico.
Mexico is in the early stages of reintroducing captive-raised Mexican wolves into their historic range there. Mexico also now has an expanding population of 28 wolves in the wild with documented reproduction in each of the last 4 years. Their beginning efforts are no less successful than the first decade of the U.S. Mexican wolf population and there’s no reason to expect they won’t continue on the same successful path. The department recognizes that 90% of historical range for Mexican wolves occurred in Mexico. The department supports the efforts of wildlife management professionals in Mexico to reintroduce and conserve this species where they believe it is appropriate.