Federal Biologists Count 50 Mexican Wolves in Wild
02/01/2011–Associated Press–ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Federal wildlife officials said Tuesday they have counted 50 endangered Mexican wolves on the Arizona-New Mexico border up from 42 wolves a year earlier.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s southwest regional director, Benjamin Tuggle, said the figure from last month’s annual survey includes 29 wolves in Arizona and 21 in New Mexico. Researchers determined there are two pairs of breeding wolves.
“We’re pretty confident with this number and we’re happy it’s significantly better than last year’s,” Tuggle said.
Of the 50 wolves, federal biologists said 14 were wild-born pups that survived through the end of 2010 – double the number of pups from the 2009 count.
Environmental groups rarely agree so enthusiastically with federal wildlife managers, but both sides were pleased by the figures.
“It’s obviously good news that the numbers have gone up,” said Michael Robinson of the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity. “It reverses a very troubling trend over the previous four years, where the numbers either went down or were static. We remain concerned that the Mexican wolf is perilously in trouble, but it’s much better to see these numbers.”
In another development, federal biologists also announced that two adult wolves – a male and a female – were released last week into the Blue Range recovery area, which straddles the Arizona-New Mexico border. The female had been born in the wild but was brought to a captive breeding program.
Tuggle said it was the first release this year – “just one of the actions we are undertaking to increase the number of Mexican wolves on the ground.”
Tuggle said the 50 wolves counted last month represents a minimum and it’s possible additional non-collared wolves might be present in the wild and were not located during the survey, which relied on fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter that used radio-telemetry signals and sightings by biologists to develop the figures.
Federal officials determined illegal shootings were the leading cause of documented wolf deaths last year.
Robinson said the only discouraging news was that there were only two confirmed breeding pairs. He said when the federal reintroduction program was adopted in 1996, the government had projected there would be more than 100 wolves in the wild and 18 breeding pairs by now.
“They’re still well short of both goals,” he said.
Robinson praised federal officials for removing no wolves last year because of livestock depredation or other nuisance behavior, which he credited as a factor in the higher population.
Tuggle said federal biologists cannot control all the factors that contribute to the wolves’ sustainability or mortality, but he said he feels strongly that the recovery project remains on track.
“As long as we’re making steady progress, I’m going to be comfortable,” Tuggle said. “I don’t have all the answers.”