El Lobo’s Uncertain Future


Lobo Week, March 23-30, 2015, marks the 17th anniversary of the Mexican gray wolf’s return to the wild. However, this wolf subspecies’ tortuous recovery journey actually began over 40 years ago, when the 1973 Endangered Species Act inspired Americans to build an ark. One of the first creatures we welcomed onto our ark was the gray wolf. But arks and best-laid plans sometimes don’t work as intended.

In 1977, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) contracted Roy McBride to capture wild Mexican wolves in Mexico to begin a breeding program for this nearly extinct subspecies of gray wolf. Ironically, McBride, who for years had lethally trapped wolves, now applied his considerable skills to wolf conservation. In three years he caught five animals. Just in the nick of time, too, because by the early 1980s the Mexican gray wolf had gone completely extinct in the wild.

Mexican Gray Wolf, California Wolf Center. Photo by Cristina Eisenberg
In 1990, USFWS hired David Parsons to lead the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program. Parsons augmented McBride’s five wolves with two certified pure Mexican gray wolves from captive populations in New Mexico and Mexico. The USFWS then designated the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, which straddled Arizona and New Mexico, where these wolves would be released. It totaled 7,000 square miles of national forest lands and contained a primary recovery area nested within a broader secondary recovery area.

Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. Photo by Cristina Eisenberg

Due to politics and resistance, it would take a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity to spur the 1998 USFWS release of eleven captive-bred Mexican wolves into the Blue Range. Since then, an influx of captive-bred wolves has bolstered this population. Today fifty licensed centers breed wolves for this federal program. Top facilities include the Wolf —> Read More