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Mexican Wolf Blue Range Reintroduction Project

Frequently Asked Questions

 
 
What is a Mexican wolf?

 

The Mexican wolf (Canis lupus bailey) is the rarest, smallest, southernmost and most genetically distinct subspecies of the North American gray wolf. Historically, the Mexican wolf was found throughout mountainous regions from central Mexico in the south, northward into Arizona , New Mexico , Utah , Colorado and west Texas . Mexican wolves typically weigh 50 to 80 pounds and measure about 5 1/2 feet from nose to tail (about the size of an adult German shepherd). They have a distinctive, richly colored coat of buff, gray, rust, tan and black. Like other wolves, Mexican wolves have a complex social structure and live in extended family groups, consisting of an adult mated pair and their offspring. Wolves hunt cooperatively to bring down prey animals, usually much larger than themselves. Larger-sized native prey for Mexican wolves includes elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer.

 
How did the Mexican wolf become endangered?

 

Intensive predator removal efforts from the late-1800s to the mid-1900s extirpated the Mexican wolf from the wild in the portion of its range found in the United States. The Mexican wolf was listed as "endangered" on the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Species in 1976. Its presence in the wild in Mexico has not been confirmed since 1980.

 
What is the reintroduction plan?

 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), in cooperation with the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD), the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF), USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services (WS) and USDA Forest Service (USFS), began releasing captive-reared Mexican wolves into the designated "primary recovery zone" in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests in east-central Arizona in 1998. Released wolves and their progeny have been designated a nonessential experimental population under a special provision of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This area is referred to as the "Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area." The reintroduction objective is to re-establish a wild population of at least 100 Mexican wolves.

 

Since the beginning of the reintroduction project, released captive-raised wolves have demonstrated the ability to survive in the wild and to successfully reproduce and raise pups. Wolves are dispersing and forming new pairs on their own, which is a good indication of a healthy wolf population. Wolves that are released into the primary recovery zone in Arizona are allowed to disperse into the secondary recovery zone in New Mexico. Wolves may also be translocated to the secondary recovery zone for management purposes with the first translocation of Mexican wolf occurring in the Gila National Forest in 2000.
 
Why was the Blue Range area selected for reintroduction of Mexican wolves?

 

The Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (BRWRA), consisting of the Apache portion of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests and the Gila National Forest in west-central New Mexico, has a large, multi-species native prey base, is resilient to drought, and contains over 6,000 square miles of habitat in historic range for wolves to colonize.

 
What is meant by primary and secondary recovery zones, wolf recovery areas and the experimental population area?

 

Mexican wolves are released into a primary recovery zone within the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests in east-central Arizona , and allowed to disperse into a secondary recovery zone comprising both the Apache-Sitgreaves and the Gila National Forests of New Mexico. The two zones combine to make up the wolf recovery area.

 

Mexican wolves are allowed and ultimately expected to re-colonize suitable habitat within the entire wolf recovery area. Wolves are not allowed to re-colonize the entire experimental population area. If a member of the nonessential experimental population is found inside the experimental population area, but outside the designated wolf recovery area, it will be captured and re-released within the recovery area, put into the captive population, or otherwise managed according to provisions of a USFWS-approved management plan.

 

If a Mexican wolf is found in the United States outside the experimental population area boundary, the USFWS will presume it to be of wild origin with full "endangered" status under the ESA, unless it possesses a radio collar or other identifying marks establishing it as a member of the experimental population. In the latter case, the USFWS or an authorized agency will attempt to capture the wolf.
 
What is an experimental population?

 

The Endangered Species Act provides for the designation of reintroduced populations of threatened or endangered species as "experimental populations" and for the further designation of these populations as "essential" or "nonessential" to the continued existence of the species. Congress added this provision to the Act in 1982 to increase management flexibility during reintroductions of listed species. For nonessential experimental populations, consultation provisions of the Act are relaxed and limited taking (e.g., harassing, capturing or killing) of individual animals can be authorized in a special regulation. This helps the USFWS to mitigate specific impacts, respond to particular needs of the reintroduced population, and address concerns of local citizens. For example, major land-use restrictions are not imposed, livestock depredation situations can be addressed immediately, and wolves can be moved, if necessary, without any additional permits (as would be required if the wolves were to retain their "endangered" status).

 
Are wolves adequately protected with the nonessential experimental designation?

 

Nonessential experimental Mexican wolves are still protected under the ESA. The special rules for the nonessential experimental population are very specific as to if, when and how management actions can be taken to control wolves that depredate livestock. Also, the designation allows for greater management flexibility to capture, monitor or translocate animals. Many wolf biologists believe that wolf recovery cannot be achieved successfully without management to integrate wolves with human populations and livestock production. Selective control of individual wolves that depredate livestock encourages wolf populations that focus on wild prey and fosters tolerance of wolves by livestock producers. This increases public support for wolves and enhances the success of recovery efforts.

 
What are some reintroduction techniques that are used?

 

Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project (Project) personnel are committed to adaptive management for wolf recovery. This means that all management techniques are evaluated continually and, if necessary, revised.

 

All adult wolves released are fitted with radio collars prior to their transfer to the acclimation pens. During the acclimation period, the wolves are fed road-killed native prey. Once released at the appropriate time, the wolves are monitored closely and supplementally fed for one to two months until it is apparent that they are hunting on their own.

 
How are released wolves monitored?

 

All wolves released are fitted with radio collars. Systematic telemetry surveys are conducted daily by land or air to monitor locations and activities of released wolves.

 
Are there plans to reintroduce grizzly bears or jaguars to the Southwest as part of this recovery effort?

 

The USFWS has no plans to reintroduce either the grizzly bear or the jaguar to the Southwest. Reintroduction of Mexican wolves to the Blue Range area of Arizona and New Mexico involved extensive scoping, planning, biological studies, public meetings, and completion of an Environmental Impact Statement, all of which focused solely on the Mexican wolf.

 

Before any species listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA can be reintroduced to portions of its historic range, an extensive array of legal requirements - planning, studies, public involvement and environmental compliance - must be performed and met. This process can occur only after a species recovery team approves the initial concept.

 
Does wolf reintroduction affect private land?

 

With the permission of a landowner, the USFWS can provide assistance for managing or controlling wolves. Although livestock owners and their agents will be allowed to kill wolves that are attacking livestock on their private lands, anyone may harass a wolf away from them and their property without injuring it. A person may kill, injure or harass a wolf in defense of human life, but it must be reported to the proper authorities within 24 hours.

 
Will land-use restrictions be necessary under the reintroduction plan?

 

The Project reintroduction plan contains no land-use restrictions or prohibitions on private and tribal lands and no major restrictions on public lands. If needed, certain uses can be temporarily restricted on public lands within one mile of release pens, dens and rendezvous sites (specific areas pups use after they leave the den). Outside these few, small areas where temporary restrictions may be imposed, traditional uses of public lands, such as logging, grazing, mining, military activities, hunting, hiking and camping will be unaffected by Mexican wolf reintroduction.

 
Can livestock producers be compensated for livestock killed by wolves?

 

The federal government does not pay direct compensation for livestock losses. However, a private conservation group, Defenders of Wildlife, has established a fund to compensate livestock producers up to market value for documented losses due to wolves. This fund has been operation in the northern Rocky Mountain region since 1987 and in the Southwest since 1998. Visit www.defenders.org/wolfcomp.html for more information or call (520) 623-9653.

 
Do captive-reared wolves successfully adapt to the wild?

 

Adjustment to the wild presents a challenge for any captive-reared animal. Reintroduced wolves have immediately demonstrated their retention of wild behavior upon release, including killing of wild elk within three weeks of the release of the first wolf pack in 1998.

 
How will other wildlife populations be affected by wolves?

 

Predator-prey interactions are extremely complex and generally require long-term study; however, some general statements can be made. Wolves and other predators do not cause their prey to go extinct (if they did, predators themselves would starve); but predators can limit prey populations. A major advantage of wolves and other predators to prey populations is that they can reduce nutritional stress on prey animals by keeping populations within the capacity of the habitat to support them. This in turn enhances the health of prey animals, which results in good reproductive and survival rates in a population.

 
Are wolves dangerous to humans?

 

One of the primary characteristics used for selecting Mexican wolves for reintroduction is avoidance and fear of humans. Wolves that have the potential to be released must not be socialized or habituated to humans, so they are not likely to be attracted to people or human establishments once released. Mexican wolves selected for reintroduction are managed with minimal exposure to humans in an environment that fosters and maintains natural wolf behaviors. Although attacks by wolves on humans do occur, they are considered extremely rare in North America . Wolves, like any other animal, may occasionally develop some level of habituation to humans and human activity. However, observation of wolves in proximity to humans or man-made structures does not mean that wolves are likely to attack. The risk of wolf attacks across the world is very low. The majority of wolf attacks that have occurred resulted from situations involving rabid wolves; wolves habituated to humans (such as being fed by humans at campgrounds or near settlements); or provoked wolves (wolves that were beaten or attempted to be killed) and the attacks were attempts by the wolves to get away. Domestic dogs, pet wolves and wolf-dog hybrids are responsible for killing many people every year in North America. Wolves and wolf-dog hybrids kept as pets can be unpredictable and dangerous.

 

A person may kill, injure or harass a wolf in defense of human life, but the action must be reported within 24 hours to the Arizona Game and Fish Department's 24-hour dispatch (Operation Game Thief) at 1-800-352-0700.
 
Do wolves pose a danger to my pets?

 

To protect both the pet and wildlife, pets should always be carefully monitored by their owners in areas where they may encounter native wildlife, such as national forests or parks. Unsupervised dogs that stray into wolf territories from their owner's homes or from their handlers are at risk. Wolves may treat dogs as interlopers on their territories and can be very aggressive towards them, especially during denning season (April through May).

 

Bear and lion hunters who hunt with dogs may wish to contact Project personnel to receive additional information on wolf locations before running dogs in the BRWRA at (888) 459-9653.

 

Note that it is illegal to kill or injure a wolf attacking your pet dog or cat.

 
How is the public kept informed of the status and progress of the Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project?

 

Project personnel are committed to an open dialogue with local communities and other interested parties as Mexican wolf reintroduction continues to move forward. Project personnel produce a written monthly Project Update for the public which is posted on the USFWS and AGFD Web sites. They also provide weekly aerial telemetry flight locations for Mexican wolves and maps of these locations on the same Web sites. Biologists provide presentations and participate in other public forums that facilitate communication between project staff and affected communities. Information and interaction activities are developed with input from the public and evaluated with the objective of addressing current needs and concerns.

 
Does the Interagency Field Team (IFT) investigate all wolf kills of cattle?

 

The IFT investigates all suspected or reported wolf depredations and wolf-human conflicts immediately and reports the results appropriately, in strict accordance with the Project's Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 11.0, Depredation on Domestic Livestock and Pets. SOP 11.0 directs WS IFT members to respond within 24 hours to each incident or allegation of wolf-livestock conflict, and other IFT members will provide assistance as requested, appropriate and/or necessary. Even before finalization of SOP 11.0, the Project's 5-year review found the average IFT response time was less than 24 hours to arrive on scene of a reported depredation. Non-WS IFT members, with assistance from WS IFT members as available and appropriate, handle wolf-human conflicts involving attacks on pets or domestic animals, other than livestock, and other nuisance behavior as defined within SOP 13.0, Control of Mexican Wolves.

 
Does the IFT report wolf kills of cattle?

 

The IFT has reported and continues to report all depredations found from the air during weekly radio-telemetry flights or during on-the-ground monitoring activities. The IFT has found and reported dead livestock consistently throughout the years, with most of the depredations being initially discovered by the IFT.

 
Does the IFT pick up cattle carcasses before ranchers can find them in order to hide evidence of wolf depredations?

 

Per SOP 11.0, Depredation on Domestic Livestock and Pets, all livestock carcasses that the IFT finds are left in the area and are reported to the appropriate livestock operator. At a minimum, the IFT reports the dead animal to the permittees via phone or often makes the report in person. The IFT works diligently towards finding remains of all prey items taken by Mexican wolves and reports them accordingly. With livestock owner permission, the IFT has removed, or otherwise made unavailable to wolves, some cattle carcasses.

 
Do Mexican wolves have to be fed so that they will survive?

 

Guidelines for the extent and duration of supplemental feeding are provided within SOP 8.0, Supplemental Feeding . The IFT provides "carnivore logs," made for zoo carnivores, and carcasses of road-killed ungulates to wolves following initial releases or translocations. This is kept to a minimum and is generally done for one to two months following the release/translocation or until the wolves begin to find food on their own. In addition, the IFT does sometimes feed wolves in association with control or trapping actions (for example, to localize the group for more efficient removal), or when wolf deaths or injuries require temporary supplemental feeding to sustain surviving wolves, especially females shortly before or after giving birth to pups. Outside of these specific instances, the IFT does not feed wolves. Once the packs have become established in an area, they are not fed by the IFT, and these packs must kill and scavenge sufficient prey to meet the pack's biological needs.

 
Some Mexican wolves look sick; does this mean they are diseased or starving?

 

Like most mammals, wolves shed hair during the late spring and summer. The public sometimes reports wolves as being diseased, sick or skinny during this period, especially if the wolves are wet. While it is true Mexican wolves can look thin and "mangy" during these times, often the same pack may have animals that are described as big and healthy during winter periods. It is important to recognize that Mexican wolves are somewhat smaller than their northern counterparts, and they rarely look as well groomed and fed as captive wolves seen on TV and in other mass media.

 
Are all Mexican wolves from captive animals and, therefore, unafraid of humans and more likely to be aggressive or attack people?

 

One of the primary characteristics used for selecting Mexican wolves for reintroduction is avoidance and fear of humans. Wolves that have the potential to be released must not be socialized or habituated to humans, so they are not likely to be attracted to people or human establishments once released. Mexican wolves selected for reintroduction are managed with minimal exposure to humans in an environment that fosters and maintains natural wolf behaviors. Reintroduced wolves have immediately demonstrated their retention of wild behavior upon release, including killing of wild elk within three weeks of the release of the first wolf pack in 1998. Although attacks by wolves on humans do occur, they are considered extremely rare in North America. Wolves, like any other animal, may occasionally develop some level of habituation to humans and human activity. However, observation of wolves in proximity to humans or man-made structures does not mean that wolves are likely to attack. The risk of wolf attacks across the world is very low. The majority of wolf attacks that have occurred resulted from situations involving rabid wolves; wolves habituated to humans (such as being fed by humans at campgrounds or near settlements); or provoked wolves (wolves that were beaten or attempted to be killed); and the attacks were attempts by the wolves to get away.

 
Are the animals present in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area true wolves or hybrids?

 

According to scientists, there are three known pure lineages of the Mexican wolf: McBride, Ghost Ranch and Aragon. Geneticists have verified that each of the three lineages consist of purebred Mexican wolves. Regarding the free-ranging population, there have been two incidents of Mexican wolf-dog hybrid litters conceived in the wild, one occurring in New Mexico and the other on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona. The IFT humanely euthanized both litters after genetic testing verified they were Mexican wolf-dog hybrids. Both cases involved a female Mexican wolf breeding with a male dog. Aside from the two hybrid litters that have been discovered, there is no evidence to date to suggest hybridization with dogs or other canids is occurring in the free-ranging Mexican wolf population. Genetic testing and analysis of all captured animals will continue to be an important component of the Mexican wolf reintroduction program. Project personnel will continue to investigate genetic data and determine if introgression of either domestic dog or coyote genes has occurred within the Mexican wolf population.

 
Can and do Mexican wolves kill elk?

 

Although the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) suggested that deer would be the primary prey for Mexican wolves, scat analysis shows that wolves are principally killing and feeding upon elk. Since the EIS was published in 1996, elk populations within the reintroduction area have expanded, while deer populations have diminished. The first Mexican wolves were released in 1998 and successfully preyed upon elk within three weeks of release. Monitoring by the IFT and independent researchers has demonstrated that wolves prey upon all sex and age classes of elk, but primarily the youngest and oldest age classes, and therefore are fully capable of killing live elk when necessary.

 
Does the IFT shoot elk to feed the wolves?

 

Unequivocally, the IFT does not kill elk to feed wolves. Elk that die from other causes (primarily road kill) may sometimes be salvaged for supplemental food for wolves, pursuant to SOP 9.0, Road Kill Salvage. Any elk that is killed without a license or approval of the local wildlife manager, injured or otherwise, is a violation of state game laws. Residents who discover an elk that they feel was killed as the result of illegal activities should report it to their local wildlife manager. The wildlife manager will follow up with an investigation. If any IFT member were involved, they would suffer the same penalty as any other member of the public and would be subject to additional disciplinary action by their agency, including termination.

 
Do agency personnel report accurate, timely locations of the wolves?

 

Concerns about timely flow of appropriate information were significant elements of agency and public comment during the 3-year review, and changes to SOPs and field staff capacity and direction were modified as a result. In addition, the IFT responded to all calls from local residents requesting information. These e-mails and calls consisted of locations relative to geographic areas on the landscape. The locations provided were intentionally vague during the wolf denning season, and generally only described the distance from one map point instead of two during this time frame. The IFT is available for follow-up calls or any phone call from the public regarding locations at 1-888-459-9653. Individuals have in some instances suggested that the location information should be given in a more timely fashion, or that the information was not accurate. The IFT does not agree with that perspective, but in such cases, the IFT now works with the individuals to ensure that communication is improved. However, the IFT does not contact individuals who do not have wolves on or near their allotment or private land. Further, the IFT does not routinely give locations to individuals who do not request the information from the IFT. Permittees or private residents that request the information and have a demonstrable need (i.e., wolves on their allotment) for the information are routinely contacted. The IFT is consistently searching for improvements in the methodology and carefully considers requests.

 
Do Mexican wolves always remain at initial release sites and within wilderness area boundaries?

 

Throughout the period when reintroduction was first discussed with the public, agency representatives spoke consistently and forthrightly about the likelihood that if wolves were reintroduced, some would likely localize and others might travel hundreds of miles. Mexican wolf packs range over large areas (on average about 200-square miles) and individual wolves can disperse hundreds of miles. As predicted, some wolves have established home ranges in areas in which they were released, while others have moved into other areas to establish a home range. This information was well known about wolves prior to the reintroduction of Mexican wolves in the BRWRA. No promises were ever made that that wolves would somehow be restricted to local areas of the BRWRA. Wolves are allowed to exist anywhere within this boundary. The IFT is, however, required to capture packs that establish territories wholly outside the BRWRA per the Final Rule (63 FR 1752). The fact that these rules were established suggests that both the public and the agencies were keenly aware that wolves would cover large areas.

 
Does the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or Arizona Game and Fish Department (department) have plans to translocate northern gray wolves into Arizona from Canada or the northern Rocky Mountain populations?

 

No, absolutely not. There are no plans to translocate wild wolves from these areas into Arizona. Any discussion or rumor to that effect is simply misinformation. The only wolf subspecies the FWS and department will be actively reintroducing into Arizona and managing for is the Mexican wolf subspecies (Canis lubus baileyi). This subspecies is unique compared to other wolves in North America. It currently only exists in the wild within the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in Arizona and New Mexico. There are a number of Mexican wolves housed in captivity within the Species Survival Program's network of zoos and captive breeding facilities located across the U.S. and in Mexico.

Mexico is in the early stages of reintroducing captive-raised Mexican wolves into their historic range there. The department recognizes that the majority of historical range for Mexican wolves occurred in Mexico. The department supports the efforts of wildlife management professionals in Mexico to reintroduce and conserve this species where they believe it is appropriate.

 

 
 
 
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External Resources [More]
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Mexican Wolf Recovery Program
   
- View annual Mexican wolf population statistics charts
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Learn more
- Interagency Field Team overview and field activities
   
- Monthly Project status reports
   
- In-depth natural history information on Mexican gray wolves [PDF, 60kb]
   
- View Mexican wolf reintroduction project photo gallery
   
- Have Mexican wolf and other endangered species news delivered to your inbox
 
 

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