The Mexican wolf once roamed throughout vast portions of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico. But, as human settlement intensified across the Southwest in the early 1900s,
wolves increasingly came into conflict with livestock operations and other human activities. Private, state, and federal extermination campaigns were waged against the wolf
until, by the 1970's, the Mexican wolf had been all but eliminated from the United States and Mexico.
Listed as Endangered
In 1976, however, a new era dawned for the Mexican wolf. The Mexican wolf, a subspecies of gray wolf, was listed as endangered under the
Endangered Species Act of 1973, a recognition that the subspecies was in danger of extinction. The wolf was
already functionally extinct in the Southwest, and only occasional reports of wolves in Mexico confirmed its continued existence in the wild. It was now incumbent upon
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service(Service), to lead an effort to bring the Mexican wolf back from the brink of extinction in the United States. The question was, "How?"
Recovery Efforts Begin- Captive Population
Between 1977 and 1982, recovery of the Mexican wolf was jump-started with a flurry of activity. First, the United States and Mexico agreed to establish a bi-national captive
breeding program with several wolves captured in Mexico between 1977 and 1980. The purpose of the breeding program was to save the species from absolute extinction and to
provide animals for future reintroduction to the wild. Meanwhile, the Service established a recovery team in 1979 to assist the agency in mapping out a recovery strategy for
the Mexican wolf. The Service approved the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Plan in 1982. Due to the perilous status of the Mexican wolf at the time, and uncertainty if captive-reared
wolves could successfully be returned to the wild, the recovery plan stated that delisting may never be possible. The plan, therefore, did not provide a definitive recovery
goal (criteria to down-list or de-list the Mexican wolf from the list of threatened and endangered species) for the Mexican wolf, but instead provided an interim objective
to focus and stimulate reintroduction and recovery efforts. The prime objective of the Recovery Plan states: "To conserve and ensure the survival of Canis lupus baileyi
by maintaining a captive breeding program and re-establishing a viable, self-sustaining population of at least 100 Mexican wolves in the middle to high elevations of a
5,000-square-mile area within the Mexican wolf's historic range."
Reintroduction to the Wild
As the Mexican wolf captive program grew and demonstrated increasing success through the 1980s, attention turned to identification of appropriate areas for reintroduction of
the Mexican wolf to its historical habitat. An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was finalized in 1996, in which the Apache and Gila national forests in eastern Arizona and
western New Mexico, respectively, were identified as appropriate areas for reintroduction. In March 1997, the Secretary of the Interior signed a Record of Decision approving the
preferred alternative of the EIS to release captive-reared Mexican wolves into a portion of the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. With substantial opportunities for public input,
the Service subsequently published the Final Rule, Establishment of a Nonessential Experimental Population of the Mexican Gray Wolf in Arizona and New Mexico, on January 12,
1998. The non-essential experimental population designation for Mexican wolves allows for greater management flexibility to address conflict situations, such as livestock
depredations or nuisance behavior, than if wolves had retained the fully endangered designation. The Final Rule provides regulations for how the reintroduced population will
be managed by responsible agencies, and further, spells out public rights with respect to human safety and protection of property from Mexican wolves on private, tribal,
and public lands. A copy of the Final Rule can be down-loaded from our website.
On March 29, 1998, captive-reared Mexican wolves were released to the wild for the first time in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. Here, 11 vanguards of the rarest and most
unique subspecies of gray wolf in the United States began an historic journey - the journey of recovery.