Saturday, August 23, 2014

Federal Program Seeks to Increase Mexican Wolf Recovery Zone

A team of volunteers with the USFWS examining a captive female Mexican wolf for any vital signs in New Mexico's Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge.

It has recently been reported that the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which is managing a recovery area in the state of New Mexico for Mexican wolves, indicated that it wants to considerably enlarge the area in order to release the animals into the wild. Initially, the agency began bringing the wolves to an inadequate area of national forest bestriding Arizona and New Mexico in 1998 and now requests to make the area fifteen times larger in order to have the wolves roam freely. This proposal was explained by Tracy Melbihess of the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program this month at public meetings in both Arizona and New Mexico. She indicated that genetics of the wild population is weak due to inbreeding, and that more wolves must be released into the wild from hundreds presently in captivity. In order to do that, there should be an expansion of government-established boundaries to prevent territorial conflicts. In addition, Sherry Berrett of the USFWS added that working on the resilience and acceptance of wolves by people needs to be worked on. However, that would not be easy since people are the main threat of wolves. Since the recovery program began, 55 wolves had been illegally killed either by firearms, trappings, or other ways. These killings have been a result of retaliation against livestock predation by the wolves. Last year, the USFWS associated 28 livestock killings to the wolves. Although the ranchers were said to be acceptable for compensation, they argued that cattle afflicted by wolves would lose weight which decreases their value. Furthermore, hunters complained that the wolves were killing off the local game animals. However, wolf advocates argued that Mexican wolves play an important role in a healthy ecosystem. One of them is Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, who has examined the history of the U.S policy towards wolves for the past thirteen years. He pointed out that wolves prevent animals like elk from grazing too long at riverbanks, which allows more trees such as cottonwood and willows to grow. He further added that more abundant concentration of trees would attract more beavers to build their dams to provide habitat for fish. In addition, the trees also provide nesting habitat for migratory birds.
A billboard warning about presence of wolves.

It is a very bold move that the USFWS has carried out, in order to help revive the Mexican wolf population in the American Southwest. The expansion of the species' recovery zone would help cover more ground in the region, in order to further reintroduce captive wolves back into the wild. This is a crucial step since Mexican wolves, like their northern counterparts, play a vital role in the dry and arid ecosystem by keeping the wild herbivore population in check. However, their presence has not been sitting well with ranching communities whose members view them as a threat to their livestock. For this reason, scores of free-roaming wolves have fallen victims in the hands of distraught ranchers who do not care whether the global population of Mexican wolves is stable or critically low. In addition, hunters view them as competitors for game animals and would resort to killing the wolves in order to eliminate competition. These issues not only further decimate the Mexican wolf population in the U.S, but also hinder the recovery efforts to successfully revive the Mexican wolf in its historical range. The local people living within the vicinity of these animals need to learn and understand that they are crucial for the survival of a healthy ecosystem and that they help maintain ecological balance by preying on wild herbivores in order to keep their populations in check. At the same time, ranchers who have been affected by wolves should be provided with necessary equipment to prevent any attacks on their livestock. This includes chain-link fencing to prevent wolves from crossing into lands reserved for cattle and other livestock. In addition, livestock guardian dogs should be employed to keep wolves away from the livestock. This tactic was conducted by the government of Catalonia in the Pyrenean Mountains three years ago. It is unclear what the current global population of the Mexican wolf is and it is therefore important to take tremendous action to prevent any further loss of these animals in the hands of people who view them as cold-blooded killers from fairy tales.

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