FARMINGTON – A wildlife activist group has filed Freedom of Information Act requests in hopes of understanding why federal agencies killed four Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico.
The Center for Biological Diversity said it is trying to determine if the state’s livestock industry swayed the agencies’ decision to kill the animals.
In 1976, the Mexican gray wolf was placed on the Endangered Species list, and a captive breeding program with the last seven gray wolves was initiated. Wildlife officials in New Mexico and Arizona estimate there are 163 of the wolves living in the wild and about 300 in captivity.
According to three memos dated late-March from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service detailing the authorization, the animals were killed because of ongoing “wolf-caused depredations of livestock,” or the wolves were believed to be killing nearby livestock.
One wolf was killed March 23 and three others were killed March 28, according to the memos.
Since wolves were officially reintroduced to the Four Corners in 1998, federal employees have killed 20 wolves, while an additional 22 have died accidentally during capture.
The Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project has seen success in the past year. Officials announced the Mexican wolf population grew by 24% in 2019.
The effort to revitalize the Mexican gray wolf population is overseen by multiple state, federal and tribal agencies, including: New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Arizona Game and Fish, White Mountain Apache Tribe, U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, USDA Wildlife Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service.
In addition to the agency-sanctioned killing of the four Mexican gray wolves, other wolves were found dead in early spring. Two wolves were found dead in March in Arizona, a wolf pup was also found dead, most likely hit by a car in Arizona, and three wolves in New Mexico were discovered dead in March. Gray wolves can often be mistaken for coyotes.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offered a reward of $37,000 for information leading to the arrest of whoever was responsible for the two wolves found in Arizona.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also issued a period of public comment and input as it begins the process of rewriting rules about how the wolves will be managed.
The previous 2015 rule was overturned in 2018 when a judge ordered it rewritten, when environmentalists sued, arguing it was not capable of growing the endangered animal’s population in the wild.
The agency has until May 17, 2021, to complete the rule change.