Illegal Wolf Shootings on Rise in AZ and NM
TUCSON - Conservationists are calling for stronger law enforcement to protect the endangered Mexican gray wolf after a third animal from a federal recovery program along Arizona's eastern border was found illegally killed within the past month. Eva Sargent, Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife, says every single wolf is crucial to survival of the species.
"There were only 42 of them in the wild at the beginning of the year, so we're really concerned about what looks like an upsurge in poaching. Two of them were in Arizona and one in New Mexico."
Sargent is urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to increase enforcement with the hope of reducing illegal wolf killings. While ranchers have fought the reintroduction program because of concerns about livestock losses, Sargent argues the wolves account for less than one percent of Arizona livestock losses, and ranchers are compensated for those losses.
Defenders of Wildlife is helping fund a substantial reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the wolf killings, she says.
"There's a whole lot of groups, including the Fish and Wildlife Service and the two states, conservation organizations and individuals, which are contributing to a reward fund. The potential reward right now is over $58,000."
In addition to added enforcement, Sargent is asking the government to quickly develop and implement a new Mexican gray wolf recovery plan, which includes expanding the wolves' numbers.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service is going to have to release more wolves and do it somewhat quickly to make up for these losses so that the population isn't headed to extinction."
Since the reintroduction program began 12 years ago, biologists have been hoping for a self-sustaining wild population of 100 Mexican gray wolves. Currently, the program has fewer than half that number.