New study says Mexican wolves should stay within historical range

Mexican wolves range

Photo credit: Jim Clark/USFWS

Science says Mexican wolves should stay in their historical range. A new international research study published in the leading wildlife science journal Biological Conservation finds that releasing Mexican wolves “far outside their historical range” – AKA southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico and the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico – would “encourage genetic mixing with northwestern wolves originally from Canada,” and endanger the genetic makeup of this unique wolf species, the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) reports.

Jim Heffelfinger, an AZGFD biologist and co-author of the study, points out that if Mexican wolves are placed within a non-native area before the species is fully recovered, then “the large wolves of Canadian origin” would genetically swamp the Mexican wolf.

“Mexican wolves are physically smaller, have smaller pack sizes, less stable packs and higher levels of inbreeding than wolves in the Rocky Mountains,” says Heffelfinger. “Directing wolf recovery north of historical range threatens the genetic integrity and recovery of the subspecies and is unnecessary because large tracts of high-quality habitat exist within that range.”

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Researchers discovered that the recovery boundary includes a new “200-mile expansion from the core historical range to the north into central Arizona and New Mexico,” and that Mexico plays an integral role in preserving this sub-species of wolf, according to AZGFD. In fact, 90% of the Mexican wolves historic range and more than 20,000 square miles of “high-quality habitat” is located in Mexico.

Because AZGFD’s Mexican wolf recovery efforts have been criticized and critiqued by the state government and other wildlife groups, this study is an important part of the process, particularly because it provides science grounding on how to move forward with the recovery project.

“Our obligation is to make recovery decisions based on the latest research, solid science and management experience to preserve this unique wolf subspecies under the Endangered Species Act,” says Heffelfinger.

The full study, which can be found HERE, was researched and authored by biologists and scientists from AZGFD, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the University of Montana, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, the Universidad de Guadalajara, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Centro del Cambio Global y la Sustentabilidad en el Sureste.


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