FARMINGTON – A three-legged Mexican gray wolf – considered an endangered species since 1976 – was killed in Arizona last week, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service memo.
The male wolf, which had previously suffered an emergency leg amputation in November after being caught in a trap, was killed by a federal gunman after preying on livestock.
It is the 21st Mexican gray wolf to be shot by the government since reintroduction efforts in Arizona and New Mexico began in 1998 and the fifth to be shot this year, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group.
“This wolf father’s horribly unfair fate offers us a peek at the broader tragedy of heavy-handed wolf management,” said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “After his injury, he had to hunt alone on three legs, so he turned to livestock. He was too smart to be caught in a trap again, but he couldn’t outrun his radio collar and an aerial sniper.”
In March, a male wolf, one of his pups and two other pups were shot in New Mexico.
Advocates won a 2018 lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, arguing its 2015 management policy for the endangered animal worsened inbreeding in the population. The U.S. District Court of Tucson found the federal agency failed to use the best available science to manage the wolf population. The agency has until May 2021 to revise its wolf management rule.
“The clock is ticking on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s court-ordered rewrite of its wolf-management rule,” Robinson said. The Center for Biological Diversity was one of the advocacy groups suing the federal agency.
The federal agency is scheduled to issue a draft rule and an environmental impact statement in the fall, which will be open to public comments then.
“If the agency re-authorizes anything like the current heartless mismanagement, we’ll see them in court again. Mexican wolves would recover if the Service would just release them as families into the wild and then let them live with no persecution,” he said.
The advocacy group filed Freedom of Information Act requests in May to determine why federal agencies killed the four wolves in New Mexico earlier this year. The group is trying to determine if the state’s livestock industry swayed the 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. The wolves were officially reintroduced to the Four Corners in 1998. In addition to the 21 wolves killed by federal authorization, an additional 22 have died accidentally during capture operations.
The 2019 census showed at least 163 wild Mexican gray wolves – 87 in New Mexico and 76 in Arizona – an increase from the estimated 131 wolves in 2018.