Mexican Gray Wolves are in trouble—and more than they should be at this point. Ten years ago, the federal government started to return this endangered canine to its Southwestern home. Unfortunately for the wolves, it hasn’t been working out.

Their clash with local ranchers has gotten particularly out of control. Throughout the last decade, four ranches went out of business and four more are expected to by next summer. The southwest has been hit by severe droughts, ridiculous cattle prices and some nasty wildfires over the last 10 years. The wolves have also been blamed for killing hundreds of livestock during that time and contributing to the failure of several ranches.

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photo by Sherseydc (source: wikimedia commons)

Environmentalists have also been stirring things up, arguing that grazing practices are having a negative impact on the wolf reintroduction program, which has also been mismanaged by the federal government. Right now, there are only 50 wild Mexican Gray Wolves roaming about Arizona and New Mexico—less than half of what was hoped for.

The Mexican Gray Wolf reintroduction program is coordinated by Bud Fazio, who claims the program is at a crossroads. Fazio is well aware that environmentalist and rancher concerns both need to be dealt with. Recently, he said:

“One thing about wolves is they bring out extreme emotions and feelings and attitudes, so it is an extra challenge. There is some middle ground. There is some balance, but my sense is that so far we haven’t found that in the southwest and we need to.”

And he’s certainly right about that. Next week, a meeting is scheduled to take place in Albuquerque to discuss the future of the reintroduction program. This includes discussing a recent settlement with environmentalists that pushed the end of a three-strikes rule and also clarified that the US Fish and Wildlife Service controls the program, instead of other committees or groups. The rule allowed wildlife managers to trap or shoot wolves that killed at least 3 head of livestock over a 1 year period. However, now officials will have to consider other factors, including genetic value and reproductive success, before making any further decisions.

This brings things back to the rancher issue. According to the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, some wolves have appeared to be exempt from the three-strikes rule. One pack in particular would be the Middle Fork pack, consisting of 4 pups and 2 adults—which are both missing their left front paws. This pack was blamed for the killing of 10 livestock within 2 months. Ranchers claim the wounded adults will be more likely to go after easy kills, such as calves. However, federal biologists counter that claim, stating that the pack is hunting elk more now and relying less on food caches.

Director of the New Mexico Game and Fish Department, Tod Stevenson, shares a similar viewpoint to that of Fazio. He acknowledged that the state and his agency want to make sure that ranchers can survive. He also added that it’s “the best way that we can continue to manage wildlife, is to have them as partners out there on the ground. It’s critical that we come up with a balance to achieve that”.

The Mexican Gray Wolf became extinct in the wild by the 1930s–thanks to excessive hunting and trapping by government agencies and individuals. They are currently listed as a critically endangered species. They are lucky to have survived otherwise at all.