Mexican wolves are still running on empty in the American Southwest.

With just 42 individuals—and only two breeding pairs—in the wilds of Arizona and New Mexico at the last official count, announced in February, these wolves remain one of the most endangered animals in North America.

Before reintroduction began in 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had projected 102 wolves—including 18 breeding pairs—by the end of 2006, with numbers expected to rise.

But a heavy-handed “three strikes and you’re out” policy required that any wolf implicated in three livestock losses in one year be shot or trapped, without regard to its genetic importance, dependent pups or the precarious state of the population. This policy claimed the lives of 11 wolves and sent many more of the reintroduced animals back into captivity, hobbling recovery efforts.

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The wolves’ beleaguered situation may soon take a turn for the better, however. FWS, under mounting legal pressure from Defenders of Wildlife, agreed in November to major changes in their management plan for the endangered animals.   

“We’re happy to see FWS once again accepting its responsibility for recovering these endangered wolves,” says Eva Sargent, Defenders of Wildlife’s Southwest program director. “With so few Mexican wolves in the wild, we need to restore the role of science—and this is a good step in that direction. Now FWS must begin to develop a credible recovery plan.”

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The federal agency also agreed to resume leadership responsibilities in the wolf’s reintroduction effort, ending an unsuccessful multi-agency arrangement that became less about helping the wolf recover and more about appeasing wolf opponents in the recovery area.

“This means that FWS, which has a legal mandate to restore Mexican wolves, is once again calling the shots,” adds Sargent. “FWS will continue to seek advice from other agencies and stakeholders, but Mexican wolf recovery will no longer be secondary to placating vocal anti-wolf interests.”

Learn more about Defenders' campaign to save wolves.

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