PC: Jim Clark USFWS
Love it or hate it, the Mexican Gray Wolf continues to grow and be a priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the states of Arizona and New Mexico. In a study spanning 2020 and 2021 thus far, an interagency team has accounted for a minimum of 163 wolves roaming the landscapes of Arizona and New Mexico, with 72 in Arizona and 114 in New Mexico. These are minimum numbers but even as such, they show the population has doubled in size over the last five years.
Other interesting notes from 2020 include…
- There were a minimum of 46 packs (including new pairs) documented at the end of 2020: 29 in New Mexico and 17 in Arizona, plus five single wolves in Arizona. A wolf pack is defined as two or more wolves that maintain an established territory. By comparison, there were a minimum of 42 packs at the end of 2019.
- A minimum of 124 pups were born in 2020, with at least 64 surviving until the end of the year (a 52% survival rate). The average survival of Mexican wolf pups is around 50%.
- The IFT recorded a minimum of 20 breeding pairs (12 in New Mexico, eight in Arizona) with pups in 2020.
- There were 96 collared wolves in the wild at the end of the year, which is slightly more than 50% of the wild population. These radio collars use satellite technology to accurately record wolf locations on a frequent basis. Biologists on the IFT use this information to gain timely information about wolf behavior in the wild and assist with management of the wild population.
- The IFT documented 29 mortalities in the wild population of Mexican wolves in 2020, which is similar to the mortality rate in 2019 given the growing population.
- This year’s survey represents not only an all-time record number of wolves in the wild but also the most ever breeding pairs, wild packs, pups born in the wild, and pups surviving to the end of the year.
This is all well and good and while wildlife managers pat each other on the back, wolves are wolves and continue to spur debate across their range about the social desirability of having, maintaining and growing apex predators. Doubling Mexican wolf populations, while exciting to some people is at the same time deeply disturbing to others.
While I don’t think there is an easy answer to the wolf conundrum I do think they are here to stay. The only question that remains is what that looks like for the future of ungulate game animals in the Southwest.