Critical Care for the Mexican Wolf

Colorado is the missing link necessary to allow the wolf population to re-establish

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has proposed drastic reductions in wildlife protection. Proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) would severely reduce protection for threatened species and their critical habitat. While Congress is considering various laws to weaken the ESA and to eliminate protection for gray wolves, Zinke’s plan would use his current legal authority to remove protection for threatened species.

Since the original ESA was passed in 1973, Congress has passed numerous laws to weaken it. In 1982 Congress to granted James Watt (and his successors) the authority to designate experimental wildlife population under section 10(j).

With the release of the latest Jurassic Park® sequel, news broke that zoos in San Diego and Berlin are developing technology to bring back the extinct Northern White Rhino. But there’s no need to wait for the future to see technology at work. Taking advantage of the experimental provision of the Endangered Species Act, zoos have already re-created the extinct Mexican gray wolf.

The Northern Arizona White Mountain Independent reported on the status of the Mexican Wolf recovery program in a July 24, 2018, article:

“This period of strong population growth has happened with almost the entire population being wild- born wolves,” said Jim Heffelfinger, a University of Arizona research scientist, AZGFD wildlife science coordinator and co-author of multiple peer-reviewed scientific studies on wolf recovery. “We’ve also learned that releasing captive singles and pairs that have spent their lives in a zoo setting has been ineffective in enhancing genetic diversity. The sobering truth is that in the last decade, no captive-raised adult wolf released in the wild has subsequently raised pups in the wild to contribute to the gene pool.”

In response, a reader wrote the following:

It is a shame to see the Arizona Game and Fish Department characterize the partners they work with in cross-fostering as “zoos” when they know intimately that the facilities raising the adults who should be released are the very same facilities breeding the pups AZGFD uses in cross-fostering.

The “peer-reviewed scientific studies” Heffelfinger claims to have authored are propaganda pieces advocating the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, reviewed by his fellow game managers. Scientists have criticized NAM for its lack of independent review, which is the true scientific standard for validity. But it is accurate to describe the captive breeding facilities as zoos; indeed this is how they describe themselves.

Servicing Wildlife

As part of an AZA-trademarked Species Survival Plan (SSP®), zoos keep a studbook with the desired genetic characteristics of wolves available for breeding. Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo has been breeding pedigreed wolves with expert help from the Institute of Canine Biology, a professional association of dog breeders. The Brookfield Zoo and the Endangered Wolf Center in St. Louis are now using artificial insemination to insure the continuation of their Mexican wolf breed.

The Endangered Wolf Center is concerned about “ill-informed minority opinion manipulated by extremists.” One might think this describes the ranchers who have consistently, often lethally, opposed wolf reintroduction. But no, they are talking about animal activists who have protested the way zoos and aquaria treat the animals they keep for display and research.

What struck fear in the hearts of the Endangered Wolf Center? Their statement was issued shortly after public opinion forced a fellow AZA member, SeaWorld, to abandon much of its orca entertainment. To this day, SeaWorld, like other zoos, claims to be primarily interested in protecting endangered species.

The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which operates Brookfield Zoo, has been studying dolphins in captivity. Not surprisingly, CZS is also concerned about presenting itself and its fellow AZA members to the public as protectors of animal welfare.

Instead of establishing a system of government-funded healthcare, the Obama Administration put in a system of insurance subsidies. The Trump-Pence Administration is now attacking even this inadequate system, forcing progressives to defend Obamacare while organizing for a proper healthcare system. Environmentalists face a similar dilemma after Dan Ashe, Obama’s director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), established a cross-fostering scheme to insure zoos a ready supply of wolf breeding stock. Cross-fostering guarantees that zoos will receive wildborn wolves in exchange for any wolves they release into the wild. Environmentalists are now forced to defend a deeply flawed wolf reintroduction program in the face of opposition from Republicans and western Democrats.

Fortunately, USFWS has not applied its experiment rule to the population of orcas now struggling to survive off the Pacific Northwest coast. If it had, the U.S. government would have paid whaling fleets to capture all the orcas and give them to Sea World to breed in their exhibits.

What will happen as we enter the post-lawsuit era?

A recent statement (7/12/18) from the Center for Biological Diversity and others points out the failure of cross-fostering as plan to establish genetic diversity. Also gives brief history of Mexican wolves. They conclude:

Under pressure from the powerful livestock industry that uses public lands, from 2007 to 2015 the Service released just five captive-born wolves and, unlike before, none of them were released with a longstanding mate and pups.

Scientists have criticized the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2017 Mexican wolf recovery plan that calls for release of 12 pups annually as insufficient to address inbreeding, even if fully implemented and if the pups survive and reproduce at predicted rates that have yet to be achieved. Conservationists have challenged the plan in court.

This is the problem: while briefly acknowledging the opposition from the livestock industry, the presumed solution is what Biological Diversity proclaims at the top of their homepage: “We’ve sued Trump 81 times and we’re just getting started.” But the Federalist Society Supreme Court, along with the continuing restructure of lower courts, marks the end of the era of lawsuits.

There is an alternative to slowly watching endangered species protections disappear under all three branches of the Federal Government. Wild wolves introduced into Yellowstone National Park have been roaming throughout the Northern Rockies on to the West Coast. The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project is now working to restore gray wolves to Colorado. If their campaign is successful it will begin to establish a wildlife corridor for gray wolves, including the Mexican wolf subspecies, to thrive and reproduce throughout the West.

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