SILVER CITY, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity, Forest Guardians, Sinapu and twenty-six other conservation, animal protection and educational organizations, including participants in the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan, sent a letter to the southwestern regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today requesting suspension of the Mexican gray wolf predator-control protocol known as “SOP 13.” The 29 signatories to the letter range from the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance of Gila, New Mexico, a local group in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, to the 10-million-strong Humane Society of the United States, as well as prominent scientists from both sides of the United States-Mexico border and facilities that breed the endangered wolves.
The policy the groups are protesting, SOP 13, was formally adopted by the interagency Mexican Wolf Adaptive Management Oversight Committee in late 2005 but had served as unofficial policy for more than a year before that. It prescribes the punishments wolves receive for preying on livestock and has led to the killings and incarceration of many endangered Mexican gray wolves.
The Species Survival Plan is a network of private facilities that cooperate in the captive breeding of Mexican wolves. It is this pool of captive wolves that staved off extinction after the last-known wild lobo was trapped alive in Mexico in 1980, and enables the current reintroduction program to exist and to continue to release wolves into the wild. The plan works to maximize the genetic diversity in the population that consists of descendants of just seven wolves, the last of their species. Without genetic diversity the animals can suffer the effects of genetic drift and inbreeding depression, with declining reproductive success and greater unfitness for long-term survival. The nonprofit groups’ collaborative, conscientious management of Mexican wolf genetic integrity has not been reciprocated in the government trapping and killing (including 20 accidental deaths) of wolves to placate livestock owners.
Said Jeff Williamson, executive director of the Arizona Zoological Society and the Phoenix Zoo, one of the signatory organizations and a participant in the Species Survival Plan, “As a nonprofit organization helping to breed Mexican wolves to enable reintroduction, we are gravely troubled that so many wolves have been removed from the wild and recovery prospects are significantly diminished.”
“This wolf-destroying policy is a pox on the lobo,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, another signatory group. “But unlike parvovirus or distemper, SOP 13 is a bureaucratic affliction. While publicly supporting wolf reintroduction on the one hand, our government is turning around and killing wolves just for being wolves on the other hand — all to appease a small group of livestock operators.”
Robinson added: “It’s irrational, it’s inhumane, and it runs directly counter to the notion of adaptive management for wolf recovery.”
SOP 13 prescribes a mechanistic, inflexible policy for capturing or killing Mexican wolves, affording no weight to the genetic value of the targeted animal, the social relationship of the implicated wolf to other pack members, the reproductive status of a wolf (including pregnant wolves), the temporal nature of the alleged infractions committed by a wolf (including the likelihood that depredations might cease), the number of wolves on the ground, the range or husbandry conditions — or lack thereof — attending loss of livestock, nor a host of other factors relevant to both recovery and adaptive management of the Mexican gray wolf.
Melissa Hailey of Forest Guardians, another signatory organization, said, “the Fish and Wildlife Service has been implementing SOP 13 under the guise of conservation when, in fact, these irresponsible agency killings have been devastating the Mexican wolf population.”
The letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service stresses “the inherently punitive nature of SOP 13” and how that has been “aggravated by its application.” As an example, the letter cites the July 11, 2004 government shooting of the alpha male of the Saddle Pack on the basis of SOP 13 when it was still a draft and not yet formal policy. The Saddle Pack alpha male was known to be genetically irreplaceable, had not preyed on cattle in almost three months prior to his death, and had been observed feeding on an elk in the interim.
SOP 13 has been used against the interests of wolf recovery, even when its language must be stretched in that direction, the groups assert. On February 16, 2007, the alpha male of the San Mateo Pack was shot from the air due to three depredations, one of which, on March 15, 2006, pertained to a calf on a national forest area temporarily closed to livestock. In this instance, SOP 13’s requirement that depredations against only “lawfully present” stock be counted against a wolf was ignored in the interest of killing this wild-born wolf.
Today, SOP 13 threatens to eliminate the remainder of the Saddle Pack, as well as the Durango Pack, and might even require the destruction of every extant breeding pair of Mexican wolves in the course of this spring and summer.
“SOP 13 is undermining Mexican gray wolf recovery and leading to irreversible losses in the genetic heritage of a species that was reduced by a previous U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ‘control’ program to just seven founding animals,” according to the letter.
The letter concludes: “We therefore request that the Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies immediately suspend enforcement of SOP 13 until it achieves the reintroduction goal of at least 102 animals, including 18 breeding pairs. Although this goal was projected to be reached by the end of 2006, it seems increasingly unlikely to ever be achieved under current management.”
At the end of 2006 there were six breeding pairs of Mexican wolves in the wild. Mexican wolves give birth at approximately this time of year. The number of breeding pairs for 2007 will be determined next January based on how many male and female wolves that reproduce together survive in the wild along with two or more living pups.