Assignment Earth travels to Arizona and New Mexico, where efforts to save the Mexican gray wolf are being foiled by area ranchers who say the animals are hurting their way of life. (Video: Assignment Earth)


Video transcript:

Ten years after the federal government started bringing them back, Mexican wolves now face a second extinction in the wild.

Well, the Mexican Grey Wolf is the most imperiled mammal in North America.

For many cattle ranchers here, that’s a good thing.

To put the wolves in here is unthinkable and the people don't want them here.  They don't want them here.

For decades, government authorities tried to exterminate Mexican wolves, shooting them on sight, using traps and poison, and digging pups out of their dens.  By the 1970’s, the most genetically distinct subspecies of grey wolves in North American had completely disappeared from their range in the United States.  After they were added to the endangered species list in 1976, a few Mexican Wolves were captured in Northern Mexico, the start of a captive population that has provided the animals reintroduced to the wild in Arizona under the Federal program.  This landscape straddling the border between Arizona and New Mexico is now said to be the only place where Mexican wolves survived in the wild.

At first, no one was really sure whether or not these captive animals could actually revert back to the wild and be successful.  And that is one aspect of the program that has been very successful.  Typically within one to two to three months, they’re off and killing wild prey, elk, whatever on their own.

But according to ranchers, they’re killing more than that.

They put wolves over here that are known cattle killers and their just killing cows.  I have a neighbor up here north of me that lost probably 30 head.  So it’s enough, when you lose that many, it’s enough to where it’ll put you out of business.

Many wolves have been shot or poisoned.

There’s been dozens of them killed by poachers and unfortunately by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in their trapping and shooting operations.

The government’s rules restrict them to a limited area and require any wolf to be removed either by killing or capture if it is involved in three or more confirmed livestock attacks, rules critics say stack the odds against wolves that scavenge on dead carcasses.

Here it’s written into the rules, the wolves have got to go if they prey on livestock, even if they’ve been taught to do so by scavenging on animals that they didn’t kill.

The result:  after reintroduction of nearly 100 Mexican Wolves during the past decade, only about 50 still survive, including only four breeding pairs.  The population of Mexican Wolves in the wild has actually declined in three out of the past four years, to a level far below the government’s target of 100 wild wolves by 2006.  Conservationists blame the government for buckling to the powerful livestock industry.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is operating a control program masquerading as a recovery program.

Government officials say they’re just trying to balance everyone’s interests.

We have stakeholders on both sides of the issue and not a lot of common ground.

And nobody’s satisfied.

It’s just a mismanagement of the Endangered Species Act forcing something like wolves on us that we know is gonna be, it’s gonna be a bad effect for us.

Scientists estimate the recovery area in Arizona and New Mexico could easily support more than 250 Mexican Wolves, but politics and economic interests in this region are making it almost impossible for any of them to survive. 

For Assignment Earth, I’m Gary Strieker.

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"Assignment Earth" features compelling video reports from the front lines of major environmental stories from around the globe. Topics include global warming, pollution, habitat destruction and endangered species.