Federal agency kills 'Rusty,' a Mexican gray wolf blamed in livestock deaths

An endangered Mexican gray wolf has been killed in New Mexico by federal employees, according to a document released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The kill order was issued by the agency on March 29 after the wolf’s alleged involvement in the killings of at least 13 cattle. The wolf was killed April 12. The kill order was issued on the 25th anniversary of Mexican wolves' return to the wild.

The wolf, named Rusty by a middle school student in a nationwide contest, was a part of the Mangas pack that roams western New Mexico near the Arizona state line. The Center for Biological Diversity believes the wolf likely leaves behind a pregnant mate and several yearling pups.

“This is a sad day for Mexican wolves and a devastating loss for the Mangas pack, which could be welcoming pups at any moment,” said Maggie Howell, executive director of Wolf Conservation Center. “Apart from this endangering the Mangas pack's survival, science has shown that removing a wolf parent from the family can destabilize the pack and increase the likelihood of further conflicts.”

The service issued the kill order after 13 livestock carcasses were found on public and private land. The agency document says the deaths were associated with the Mangas pack, which consists of six wolves, including three pups, one sub-adult, and two adults. Three of the remaining wolves are radio-collared.

The authorization only called for the lethal removal of one wolf to ensure radio-collared wolves remain in the pack.

The order, regardless of the results of removal efforts, says an interagency field team should continue to monitor the wolves, maintain the diversionary food cache, "haze" wolves following the completion of removal activities, and coordinate with livestock producers in the area on future management actions to reduce the likelihood of additional livestock deaths.

A Mexican gray wolf leaves cover at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, Socorro County, N.M. Wildlife managers in the United States say their counterparts in Mexico have released two pairs of endangered Mexican gray wolves south of the U.S. border as part of an ongoing reintroduction effort.
A Mexican gray wolf leaves cover at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, Socorro County, N.M. Wildlife managers in the United States say their counterparts in Mexico have released two pairs of endangered Mexican gray wolves south of the U.S. border as part of an ongoing reintroduction effort.

According to the wildlife service, the Mangas pack has engaged in a “chronic series of depredations” over a period of 10 months, with eight occurring in the last two months.

Endangered spcies: Authorities investigate the killing of a captive-born Mexican gray wolf in New Mexico

Loss of a wolf could disrupt the population

Conservationists warn that the removal of a breeding male could carry severe consequences for the pack's survival in the future. Scientific studies show that wolf removal can increase the potential for conflict, especially when breeding adults are killed.

The remaining pack members, many of whom are learning to hunt, become desperate to find food without the help of an experienced adult and thus are more likely to turn to unprotected livestock.

“Every single time a Mexican wolf is killed by the agency meant to protect and restore lobos, we need to remember these are critically imperiled, native, ecosystem engineers who belong in the wilds of the American Southwest,” said Chris Smith, southwest wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Cows are destructive, non-native animals that are only on the landscape to bring profits to a special interest.”

Once common throughout parts of the southwestern U.S., the Mexican gray wolf was all but eliminated from the wild, in large part due to conflicts with livestock. In 1998, the USFWS began recovery efforts in Arizona and New Mexico. Livestock production, mostly cattle ranching, remained in the area.

Predation is common, which can lead to conflict between ranchers and wolves. The Sierra Club estimates at least 131 Mexican wolves have been illegally killed over the last 30 years.

Recovery rules: Wildlife officials drew a line at I-40 for Mexican gray wolves, but has it hurt recovery?

New bill would address wolf issues

A bipartisan effort by lawmakers in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas is aimed at alleviating the centuries-old tension between ranchers and the endangered species. The Wolf and Livestock Fairness Act, or WOLF, would provide full reimbursement to ranchers for livestock harmed by Mexican gray wolves.

“We’re working to advance commonsense solutions that not only promote the recovery of endangered wildlife, but also support the livelihoods of our hardworking ranchers,” the representatives said in a press release. Reps. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., and David Schweikert, R-Ariz., are among the bill's co-sponsors.

The WOLF Act would reimburse ranchers and producers at 100% of market value and establish an emergency relief program to support livestock with herds that have been adversely affected by Mexican gray wolves.The legislation is supported by the Arizona Farm Bureau and the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau.

Earlier this year, reintroduction efforts were celebrated when, for the first time since the recovery program started, more than 200 Mexican gray wolves were counted in the wild, with more packs, breeding pairs, and a growing occupied range.

But conservations slammed the service’s decision to quietly authorize this killing.

“The service keeps this type of action under wraps until there’s already a dead wolf, limiting opportunities for meaningful discussions around conflict prevention or livestock management,” said Greta Anderson, deputy director of Western Watersheds Project. “The public has a right to know when there are kill orders for endangered wildlife. Both Mexican wolves and public lands belong to the American public and shouldn’t be managed exclusively for the livestock industry.”

The memorandum says the decision was reached based on evidence that Mexican gray wolves had injured or killed livestock.

“Given the rate and proximity of the depredations, the service believes it is likely that Mexican wolves will continue to depredate on domestic animals in the near future without additional control measures,” read the decision.

The deceased wolf had genes represented in the wild through offspring, as well as possible siblings or closely related individuals in the population.

A public affairs specialist for USFWS said the agency had no comments beyond what was in the removal order.

Jake Frederico covers environment issues for The Arizona Republic and azcentral. Send tips or questions to jake.frederico@arizonarepublic.com.

Environmental coverage on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow The Republic environmental reporting team at environment.azcentral.com and @azcenvironment on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

You can support environmental journalism in Arizona by subscribing to azcentral today.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Federal agency kills Mexican gray wolf after the deaths of livestock