March 29, 2022
Bryan Bird

It was late last November, and Mr. Goodbar was stuck at the border wall in New Mexico. For five days, he paced back and forth along the wall looking for an opening to pass into Mexico. Giving up, Mr. Goodbar headed northwest away from the border. You see, Mr. Goodbar could not use the ports of entry to cross into Mexico because he’s a Mexican gray wolf, one of the most endangered mammals in North America. He was born in Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas, and released into the wild in 2020.  

A month after his failed excursion, during the annual aerial population count, wildlife officers spotted Mr. Goodbar, but he was wounded—shot in the leg. The officers tranquilized him from their helicopter and flew him to the Albuquerque BioPark Zoo for emergency surgery. To save Mr. Goodbar’s life, veterinarians had no choice but to amputate his leg. Mr. Goodbar recovered quickly and was released back into the wild on February 9 with only three legs. Three-legged wolves have been known to not only survive but breed successfully, contributing critical genetic diversity into the wild population.

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Mr. Goodbar recovers from surgery.
ABQ BioPark
Mr. Goodbar recovers after surgery at the ABQ BioPark veterinary clinic.

Mexican gray wolves, or lobos in Spanish, are protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the tragic shooting of Mr. Goodbar is under federal investigation. The maximum penalty for violating the ESA is one year in jail and a $50,000 fine.

Mr. Goodbar’s story is another example of animal resilience in the face of human-caused threats. In the early- to mid-20th century, the U.S. government exterminated wolves in the western U.S. on behalf of the livestock industry. On the brink of extinction, the last seven wild Mexican gray wolves were caught and successfully bred in captivity, and their descendants reintroduced to the United States in 1998 and to Mexico in 2011.

Today, close to 200 Mexican gray wolves live in the U.S. and around 40 live in Mexico. But intolerance, roads, inbreeding and lack of genetic diversity continue to threaten the wild population. The Mexico and U.S. wolf populations must mix freely across the border and exchange genetic material for long-term survival.

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Lone Mexican gray wolf
Wolf Conservation Center

Wildlife—wolves, jaguars, pronghorn, jackrabbits and other animals—in search of resources, mates and a place to call home has moved north and south between present day Mexico and the U.S. for millennium. But border walls constructed under the Trump administration cut off wildlife connectivity on a continental scale. Defenders is calling for portions of these walls to be removed and for priority stretches of the borderlands to be restored, including where Mr. Goodbar was stopped.

Mr. Goodbar was not the first. In early 2017, two wolves from Mexico entered the U.S. One crossed where Mr. Goodbar later could not, then returned to Mexico. Two months later, another wolf crossed into Arizona, named Sonora by local school children. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured her for possible conflict with a ranching operation and she remains in captivity. Sonoroa is Mr. Goodbar’s mother.

Border wall construction has wreaked havoc on wildlife and human communities along the border. This hasty construction and senseless damage is allowed by the “waiver authority” in the REAL ID Act of 2005, a provision that gives the Secretary of Homeland Security unchecked authority to waive all laws to construct a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

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Javelinas at border wall
Matt Clark

It has been used dozens of times to bypass laws such as the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act in a quest for rapid border wall construction. Defenders is supporting congressional efforts to prevent this authority from being used to expedite current and future border wall construction. One such effort is H.R. 4848, a bill sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), which would permanently repeal the waiver authority in the REAL ID Act. The executive branch should not have unilateral authority to strip away laws protecting entire communities and ecosystems anywhere in the U.S. 

Mr. Goodbar, the three-legged wolf, is alive and roaming the wildlands of New Mexico. He is tenacious and feeding himself despite the odds. But he may never find a mate or a new territory if he cannot freely cross the U.S.-Mexico border.  

To ensure full recovery of the Mexican gray wolf, Defenders cooperates with the ranching community and other residents in Mexican gray wolf country, charting a course for peaceful coexistence. We advocate for science-based recovery and management plans, and we help wolf supporters ensure their opinions are heard by policymakers. We continue to be inspired by Mr. Goodbar and ask that Congress repeals the waiver authority in the REAL ID Act. Please take a moment to let your representatives know you want the waiver authority in the Real ID Act repealed.

Author(s)

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Bryan Bird

Bryan Bird

Southwest Director
Bryan Bird directs Defenders' efforts to protect imperiled wildlife and their habitats across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
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