Treehuggers International

The Recovery of the Mexican Wolf

January 18th, 2009

How Will the Wolf Survive?

With only about 40 animals left in the wild at the time this show was produced, the Mexican Gray Wolf is one of the most endangered species in North America. And with wolves ping-ponging on and off the Endangered Species List according to political whims, the growing acquiescence to state control over animal management, and lingering hostility and even superstition, tough times lay ahead for this most wild of animals.

The former Executive Director and current Director of Fundraising and Development for the California Wolf Center near Julian, Patrick Valentino talks with Tommy about the plight of the Mexican Wolf and other wolves throughout the west. Patrick and Tommy  also talk about some hopeful opportunities for wolves’ recovery in an era where they no longer enjoy explicit federal protection – and in which political leaders are reluctant to stand up for these predators crucial to balanced ecosystems.

A Mexican Wolf at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, Chihuahuan Desert, New Mexico.

King Cattle and the Wolf: Lost Lobos

The Mexican Wolf is the rarest, southernmost, and most genetically distinct subspecies of the Gray Wolf in North America, as well as one of the smallest, measuring 4.5 feet in length with a height of about 32 inches.

Until the late 1800s, the Mexican Wolf ranged the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts from central Mexico to western Texas, and from southern New Mexico to central Arizona. However, by the the turn of the century, reduction of wolves’ natural prey like deer and elk saw wolves to turning to domestic livestock for sustenance. This didn’t sit well with ranchers and other “entrepreneurs” eager to make the west into a colossal cattle ranch, leading to significant efforts by government agencies, and individuals, to eradicate the Mexican Wolf from the southwest.

Sadly, these efforts were quite successful. By the 1950s the Mexican Wolf had been eliminated from the wild, and in 1976, was declared an endangered species. It has remained so ever since.

Amor Apache, wolf style.

By the mid-1990s conservationists were eager to restore a natural balance to the southwest’s wildlands, and for once, they had a friendly ear in the Interior Department. In 1997 Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt authorized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce Mexican Wolves into the Blue Range area of Arizona, including the Apache-Sitgreaves and Gila National Forests of of Arizona and New Mexico.

Since then, the Mexican Wolf’s recovery has been stagnated by hostility and illegal killings. Sadly, by the beginning of 2008, the number of Mexican Wolves in the wild had dropped to a critical level of 52 animals.

California Wolf Center

Located near Julian in the San Diego County backcountry, the California Wolf Center was founded in 1977 to educate the public about the wildlife and ecology of the southwest. The center is currently home to several packs of Gray Wolves, including the endangered Mexican Gray Wolves discussed in this program.

The California Wolf Center is a participant in the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan, an ongoing collaboration between the U.S. and Mexico to help Mexican Gray Wolves recover in the wild. Most of the center’s Mexican Gray Wolf packs reside in off-exhibit enclosures, which help prepare them for a potential release into the wild.

More on the California Wolf Center can be found on-line, or by calling (619) 234-WOLF, or (619) 234-9653.

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Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

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