Mexican Wolf
Southwest Region Ecological Services
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Mexican Wolf Recovery Efforts

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.

In 2015, the Service announced its final revision to the Regulations for the Nonessential Experimental Population of the Mexican wolf under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). It revised the regulations in the 1998 Nonessential Experimental Population designation rule to expand and more successfully implement the Mexican wolf reintroduction program in Arizona and New Mexico. At this time the Service also extended the authority of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program’s ESA section 10(a) (1)(A) research and recovery permit to areas that are outside of the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area (MWEPA). Additionally, the Service listed the Mexican wolf as an endangered subspecies (Canis lupus baileyi) under the ESA.

In November 2017, the Service completed the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, First Revision. The goal of the plan provides guidance to recover the subspecies and remove it from the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife and turn its management over to the appropriate states and tribes after delisting. The recovery plan uses the best available science to chart a path forward for the Mexican wolf that can be accommodated within the species’ historical range in the Southwestern United States and Mexico. This revised plan provides measurable and objective criteria which, when met, will enable the Service to remove the Mexican wolf from the list of endangered species and turn its management over to the appropriate states and tribes.

The recovery strategy outlined in the revised plan is to establish two Mexican wolf populations distributed within the subspecies’ historical range in the United States and Mexico. This strategy for the Mexican wolf addresses the threats to the species, including human-caused mortality, extinction risk associated with small population size, and the loss of gene diversity.

At the time of recovery, the Service expects Mexican wolf populations to be stable or increasing in abundance, well-distributed geographically within their historical range, and genetically diverse. In the United States, we will implement the recovery strategy for the Mexican wolf south of I-40 in Arizona and New Mexico, in the area designated as the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area. In Mexico, federal agencies are focusing on Mexican wolf recovery efforts in the Sierra Madre Occidental in Sonora, Durango, and Chihuahua.

The Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan has undergone an extensive review through each stage of development and incorporates the best scientific information available today. This revised recovery plan was developed with Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah; the Forest Service; and federal agencies in Mexico to enable recovery of the Mexican wolf while ensuring the needs and interests of local communities are fully considered. It includes consideration of geographic distribution, population abundance, genetic management, monitoring and adaptive management, and ongoing collaboration with partners to recover the Mexican wolf in a manner that minimizes effects on local communities, livestock production, native ungulate herds, and recreation.

Additional Information

Visit the Wolves in the Wild page to learn more about Mexican wolves in the wild today.

Visit the Captive Management page to learn more about Mexican wolves in captivity.

Mexican Wolf Annual Progress Reports
2018 Updated
2015 Addendum
2014 Addendum
2013 - Addendum
2012 - Addendum
2011- Addendum
Last updated: December 8, 2021