Eva Sargent I'm Eva Sargent, the Southwest Director of Defenders of Wildlife.
Interviewer Explain the current status of Mexican wolves.
Eva Sargent By about the 1940s there were no Mexican wolfs left in the United States, and by the early '80s there were no Mexican wolves in the wild anywhere in the world. No there are 75 in Arizona and New Mexico, and a handful in Mexicas, so they're doing a little better.
Interviewer (take 2) Explain the current status of Mexican wolves.
Eva Sargent Before the reintroduction of Mexican wolves, there was zero. They were extinct in the wild all over the world, and today there's 75 in Arizona and New Mexico and a handful in Mexicas, so that's a bit of a miracle.
Interviewer Why are they considered endangered?
Eva Sargent They're considered endangered because they were completely extinct in the wild and because the numbers are so low today, so there's a danger that they will be completely lost again, and that's why they're on the Endangered Species List.
Interviewer Tell me their history. What caused their decline?
Eva Sargent What caused the decline of the Mexican wolf was persecution by the U.S. Government agencies and by ranchers to remove the wolf as a threat to livestock, and they were completely extirpated because of that.
Interviewer What was their territory?
Eva Sargent Originally Mexican Wolves were found from Central Mexico up into Southern Arizona and New Mexico and over into Texas.
Interviewer What is the biggest threat to Mexican Wolves?
Eva Sargent The biggest threat today is criminal killing of Mexican Wolves--illegal killing by criminals who are anti-wolf, and genetic problems, because the Mexican wolves… All of the Mexican wolves in the world today are the decedents of only seven wolves, so they need to be managed very carefully to prevent genetic problems.
Interviewer Are the reintroduction efforts successful?
Eva Sargent The reintroduction efforts for Mexican Wolves are successful in that there used to be zero. They were completely extinct in the wild and now there are 75 in the U.S. and a handful in Mexico, so I would say that's part ESA success story, part miracle to bring them back at all.
Interviewer Why so many controlled actions?
Eva Sargent Mexican Wolves are controlled or managed because they sometimes eat cows. Now they don't eat very many livestock, but if they're your cows that's a totally different story. They're responsible for less than one percent of livestock deaths, but still there's a move to manage them to prevent depredations.
Interviewer (take 2) Why so many controlled actions?
Eva Sargent There's actually fewer now than there were say five years ago. More ranchers are learning to co-exist with wolves. When there are controlled actions it's generally due to depredation.
Interviewer What happens when a wolf kills livestock?
Eva Sargent When a wolf kills livestock it's usually very bad news for the wolf because there will be some outcry to remove the wolves. At the same time, it's a signal that we need to be working harder with the ranchers to learn to coexist with wolves. So generally ranchers can get compensated from a number of government programs for the wolf death, and also it triggers defenders and government agencies to show up and talk to the ranchers and try to help them put in measures to prevent that in the future.
Interviewer Are ranchers and politicians accepting of the reintroduction?
Eva Sargent Ranchers and politicians are more accepting now than they ever have been as more effort is made to help ranchers coexist with wolves to help them raise livestock in ways that do not harm wolves, and to spend more time keeping the two species apart, lowering conflict levels. If politicians were listening to the public they would be more supportive of wolves because overwhelmingly in Arizona and New Mexico the public supports wolf reintroduction. On the other hand, politicians tend to do a bit of grandstanding sometimes to their constituencies and end up sounding more negative about wolves than they probably should.
Interviewer (take 2) Are ranchers and politicians accepting of the reintroduction?
Eva Sargent Ranchers and politicians are probably more accepting than they used to be because there is so much effort to help ranchers coexist with wolves. On the other hand, politicians are probably not completely aware of how much public support there is in New Mexico and Arizona--in the two states an overwhelming majority, 77% in Arizona, 69% in New Mexico of voter's support of reintroduction.
Interviewer Why should they be reintroduced?
Eva Sargent Wolves should be reintroduced because they are important to the ecosystem. If you look, for example, the Yellowstone case, you can see how the reintroduction of wolves brought back a whole lot of other species, beaver, songbirds, kept the elk moving, brought back the aspen. And we're hoping that when we have enough wolves in the southwest we'll start to see those same affects. Another reason that wolves should be brought back is because you don't throw away pieces of nature. You know we managed to save the Bald Eagle. We managed to save the Black-Footed Ferret, and it's time to save the wolf, not to give up on these species which are iconic for our region.
Interviewer What do you say to those who think their time has passed?
Eva Sargent To people who say the time of the Mexican Gray Wolf has passed, I say, has the time of the Bald Eagle passed? Has the time of the Florida Panther passed? What are you willing to give up? And if you're willing to give something up, are you children and your children's children willing to give it up? Because once it goes extinct, it's extinct forever.
Interviewer How does the public view Mexican Wolves?
Eva Sargent There's a high level of Mexican Wolf support both in Arizona and New Mexico. Over 69% of voters in New Mexico support the reintroduction of wolves. Seventy seven percent of voters in Arizona support the reintroduction of wolves. So you have a vocal minority who does not support it, and a quiet, very large majority that does support it.
Interviewer What do you see for the future of Mexican Wolves?
Eva Sargent What the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decides to do in the next year will really establish whether Mexican Wolves can recover at all. The Service needs to undertake a genetic rescue plan, release more wolves. They need to finish a recovery plan so that we have a road map to where we are going to go to recover Mexican Wolves, and they need to establish two additional core populations--at least two more. So what they do right now will determine whether Mexican Wolves have a future at all.
Interviewer Can you tell us the story about the Fox Mountain female?
Eva Sargent The Fox Mountain female… the Fox Mountain pack of wolves got into trouble depredating on some cows, and immediately Defenders of Wildlife and Arizona Game and Fish and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started working on plans for coexistence. And we had supported some ranger riders. We had supported moving some cows away from this pack, and at sort of the last moment when everything could have come together, the Forrest Service didn't have the flexibility to allow this gentleman's herds to be combined with his neighbor's herds, and because that couldn't be done that female was picked up and moved to captivity.
Interviewer Wasn't there a statistic that there were about 100 wolves that had been controlled and 100 reintroduced?
Eva Sargent Now they're saying there were only 99 reintroduced, and I'd have to go back and look, but I'd have to go back and look. You know here's a good step we can work our question for. Right now 99.9% of the wolves in the wild are wild born. I think there is only one in the wild right now, which is captive born. People are interested in that.
Interviewer How many wolves in the wild are captive born?
Eva Sargent Today almost all of the wolves. There's 75 in the wild in the U.S., and of those, 74 of them were born in the wild. So we're really at this important transition between the captive breeding program and a totally wild population.
Interviewer Why is reintroduction more difficult in the Southwest than in the Northern Rockies?
Eva Sargent It's more difficult because we didn't have a huge core Yellowstone that was grazing free, that had no livestock. We have an area where, although 95% of the land is public land that belongs to everyone, it's all grazed, and you have a different system of grazing. Cows down here are on the land year round. They don't go back to private land, to pasture, in the wintertime. So you just have more cows, therefore more opportunities for both real conflict, and more opportunities for sort of concern about that, and that's made it more difficult.
Interviewer What's the difference between the Yellowstone and the Mexican Wolves?
Eva Sargent The Mexican Gray Wolf is a subspecies of the Gray Wolf, and it's a smaller animal. It's about the size of a German shepherd, and it's also the most genetically unique wolf in the world, so they're a very ancient wolf. They are part of the first migration of wolves that came over from Eurasia. They're the remnants of that population.
Interviewer Tell me about your concerns for the future of the Mexican Wolf.
Eva Sargent I'm concerned about the future of the Mexican Wolf because what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does right now as stewards of this rarest wolf will determine whether it can recover at all. The Service needs to understand that they need to actively solve the genetic problem. They need to finish the recover plan. The recovery plan was written in 1982 when Tron was the top movie, so it's a little out of date. They need to do that, and they need to move ahead to establish at least two more populations. The Mexican Wolf cannot recover on its own. It can't just wander out of where it is now and establish additional populations fast enough to solve its genetic and its numbers problems. It can't find its way to habitat fast enough. So the Service really needs to step up and do what needs to be done.
Interviewer How would you evaluate the job they've done.
Eva Sargent There is a dangerous question. I'm grateful to the Service to have done what they've done already. I do think it's a miracle that this animal has come back from complete extinction in the wild. On the other hand, I'm really counting on them to step up now and do what needs to be done.
Interviewer What's your definition of success for wolf reintroduction?
Eva Sargent Success for the Mexican Gray Wolf means more wolves in more places. It means at least three secure populations. It probably means whatever scientists tell us is needed to make them really secure. It might be 750, 850, those kinds of numbers of wolves. It might be 1,000. Whatever the best science tells us needs to be done, we have to get there, and we'll keep working until we do get there.
Interviewer (take 2) Why is the Southwest Wolf considered endangered?
Eva Sargent The Mexican Gray Wolf, "El Lobo" is on the endangered species list because the numbers are so low. To be on the endangered species list means that you're in danger of being lost forever, of being completely gone. So with 75 wolves in the wild, only three breeding pairs, and only one population, there's definitely danger of being extinct forever.
Interviewer (take 3) Why is the Mexican Wolf considered endangered, and how many were left before reintroduction?
Eva Sargent Before reintroduction there were zero Mexican Gray Wolfs in the wild. It was completely an extinct species in the wild. The reason that it's considered endangered today is because there are only 75 wolves in the U.S., and only two in Mexico, and numbers that low and all in one population, in one place, and only three breeding pairs, it's very much in danger of becoming extinct again.
Interviewer What happens if you take the Mexican Wolf out of the ecosystem?
Eva Sargent When you take a top predator out of any ecosystem you start to see a collapse where there is a whole lot more of whatever that predator eats, in this case elk or deer, and then there's affects--those elk and deer eat too many plants. You saw that in Yellowstone--you saw the reverse of it when the wolves came back to Yellowstone. So we're hoping to see come of those ecosystem repair affects in the Southwest as soon as we have enough wolves to do their job. They are nature's wildlife managers.