By all rights, he should have been executed; it was his fourth killing within a year.
But in June, federal officials gave a male wolf a rare reprieve.
In Catron County’s Canyon del Buey—outside the town of Aragon—Alpha Male 1114, a Mexican gray wolf, had killed and eaten a calf. His mate, Alpha Female 903, was likely involved as well.
Under the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction project’s current rules—which include a three-strikes-you’re-out rule for cattle-killing lobos—such a transgression is punishable by death.
“That particular animal and that particular pack has represented a really tough set of decisions because we recognize our responsibility to help ranchers if wolves are affecting their landscape,” Bud Fazio, Mexican gray wolf recovery coordinator at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, says. “Yet we also recognize our responsibility to restore wolves to the landscape and give them every chance possible to make it out there.”
In this particular case, Fazio says, managers allowed the wolf to remain in the wild where he could continue helping his mate raise their pups—“and therefore restore more wolves to the wild before any future decisions to remove him.”
Alpha Male 1114’s fate isn’t set in stone—if he kills any more livestock, he will be captured and moved to captivity or else shot and killed. And not all wolves are lucky enough to be left in the wild—even though the federal government has spent more than a decade trying to reintroduce lobos to the southwestern United States.
According to the most recent official tally, there are currently 52 documented wolves in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, a legally defined 4 million-acre area of national forest that straddles New Mexico and Arizona—and out of which wolves are not allowed to stray. A total of 10 packs have been documented: five in Arizona on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests and the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, and five on New Mexico’s Gila National Forest. Returning predators to the landscape off of which they’d been hunted, clubbed and poisoned was bound to be complicated. But to many, the current numbers illustrate the program’s failure.
Wolf reintroductions have occurred across the US, including in Idaho and Montana, as well as the Great Lakes region and the southeastern US. Those other programs are not without problems and complications. For example, the successful recovery in Idaho and Montana—which will lead to the animals being removed from protection under the endangered species list—has spurred plans by both states to allow hunting of the wolves. But the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction in the Southwest is the one most clearly struggling.
“The wolves will go extinct,” Michael Robinson, conservation advocate with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, says. “If the program is continued exactly the way it is now, these wolves will go extinct.”