For Immediate Release
Southwest Forest Proposes End to Baiting of Endangered Mexican Wolves
SILVER CITY, N.M. - - The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in eastern Arizona, where
Mexican gray wolves roam, has proposed a new policy requiring proper
disposal of livestock carcasses - the first time livestock owners would
be tasked with a responsibility to prevent conflicts with wolves.
If the remains of cattle (and sometimes horses and sheep) that have
died of non-wolf causes are not made inedible or removed, they can
attract wolves to prey on live cattle that may be nearby the carcass,
and habituate them to domestic animals instead of their natural prey.
The new policy would effectively ban the practice of baiting wolves
into preying on domestic animals, which can lead to wolves being
trapped or shot by the government in retribution. Such "predator
control" actions are undermining recovery of the Mexican wolf, North
America's most imperiled mammal. The proposed change would help the
beleaguered species recover.
Michael Robinson, a
conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity in
Silver City, N.M., commended the Forest Service for the proposal.
"Ensuring that cattle and horses that die of non-wolf causes don't
entice Mexican wolves into scavenging was recommended by independent
scientists and is just plain common sense," Robinson said.
"If wolves and livestock are to coexist, we must strive to prevent
conflicts rather than blame the wolves once they have already become
used to regarding domestic animals as prey," he said.
The Apache-Sitgreaves is one of several Southwestern national forests
updating their 10-year forest plans, and is the first unit of
government to propose a livestock carcass clean-up policy in the
Southwest. The policy was instituted from the outset of the successful
reintroduction of northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves to Yellowstone
National Park and central Idaho (see background information, below).
Cattle, sheep and horses on public lands die from many causes. During
drought years especially, animals stressed by poor nutrition feed on
poisonous plants. Others forage on steep slopes, from which they fall
to their deaths. Disease, lightning - a surprisingly common cause of death.-
collisions with vehicles, predators, and birth-related deaths also take
a toll. When there is access via roads, the livestock carcasses can be
hauled away or buried. In remote areas, depending on conditions,
carcasses can be made inedible by using corrosive lime, fire or even
The Forest Service's proposal comes in
the form of a line of text in its Draft Desired Conditions for the
Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests' Revised Forest Plan: "Livestock
carcasses are not available for scavenging within the Mexican Wolf
Recovery Zone." (See http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/plan-revision/documents/ASNF-Draft-DC-2008-08-15.pdf, p. 25.)
The proposal's brevity and informality - there is a Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, but no official recovery "zone" -
belies its significance as a condition to be implemented through new
terms written into livestock grazing permits, once the plan is
The Center for Biological Diversity is
requesting that the provision be applied not just in the Apache
National Forest portion of the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, which
consists of the combined Gila and Apache National Forests, but also on
all lands governed by the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests' Revised
Forest Plan. The Sitgreaves National Forest is important wolf habitat
in its own right and could serve as a travel corridor for wolves to
enable them to reach the Grand Canyon ecosystem. Including the
Sitgreaves National Forest would also take into account an ongoing U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service rule-change process intended to allow wolves
to roam beyond the current boundaries.
The Forest Plan Revision Team is inviting public comment on the proposed changes through October 15th via e-mail at: Asnf.firstname.lastname@example.org
Several instances have come to light involving Mexican gray wolves that
originally preyed on elk and ignored cows beginning to prey on cows and
ignoring elk after scavenging on already-dead cattle. This was a
problem largely averted in reintroducing northern Rocky Mountain gray
wolves to Yellowstone and Idaho just three years before the
Southwestern wolf-reintroduction program was begun.
The rule governing the 1995 reintroduction of wolves to the northern
Rocky Mountains stated: "If livestock carrion or carcasses are not
being used as bait for an authorized control action on Federal lands,
it must be removed or otherwise disposed of so that they do not attract
wolves." The northern Rockies rule further specified that evidence of
artificial or intentional feeding of wolves would preclude labeling a
wolf in the vicinity a "problem wolf," subject to removal.
But the 1998 rule governing the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction
included no such protections. The regulatory disparity is part of the
reason that, while the northern Rockies now support around 1,450
wolves, the Mexican wolves reintroduced to the Southwest in 1998 number
around 50 animals still in the wild.
The June 2001
Three-Year Review (aka Paquet Report) of the Mexican wolf
reintroduction program, written by a panel of independent scientists
contracted by the Fish and Wildlife Service, advised "Requir[ing]
livestock operators on public land to take some responsibility for
carcass management/disposal to reduce the likelihood that wolves become
habituated to feeding on livestock."
Society of Mammalogists in June 2007 urged "protect[ing] wolves from
the consequences of scavenging on livestock carcasses."
Until now, no government agency would accept responsibility for this.
The Forest Service, which manages the land, has pointed at the Fish and
Wildlife Service as the agency that sets wolf policy. And the Fish and
Wildlife Service defers to a group of six government agencies,
including itself and the Forest Service, which opposes making owners of
stock responsible in any way for preventing scavenging and habituation.
This Catch-22 has been deadly for the wolves.
Despite the abundance of livestock, 88 percent of what the Mexican
wolves eat consists of native ungulates, such as elk and deer, and only
4 percent is livestock (including that which they scavenged but did not
kill), according to the only study on the wolves' diet conducted since
their reintroduction in 1998. But the wolf population is so low and the
rules so draconian that the official responses to even the occasional
livestock depredation serve to thwart recovery.
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