Monday, July 05, 2010
Traps, Snares Threaten N.M. Wolf Population
By Mary Katherine Ray
Wildlife Chair, Rio Grande Chapter Sierra Club
Highly endangered Mexican wolves are being harmed by legally set leg-hold traps. These devices are illegal on public land on the Arizona side of the wolf reintroduction area but not in New Mexico.
Since the reintroduction began, 12 wolves on our side have been trapped by accident or mistake. Several of those have sustained injuries to their paws or legs including lost toes as a result. Two have had to have their legs amputated.
One of the still-living, three-legged lobos is the alpha male of the Middle Fork pack. His mate is also three-legged from an unknown cause.
The case of the other amputee, M1039, is special to me.
We live near the wolf recovery area in New Mexico and were delighted to learn that a lone collared male wolf was exploring the nearby forest. It was winter, though, the time when fur trappers lay their hidden menaces.
Not long after, we noticed a helicopter flying low up and down the canyons. It did this for hours as if looking for something. It turned out that M1039 had indeed stepped into a trap set for something else and had managed to detach it from its anchor chain.
He was now free to escape the place where the trap had been hidden, but he could not escape the trap.
He had to be found, which required the helicopter, so he could be captured for medical care. But the trap had been clenched on him for too long and the leg had to go.
M1039 was released back to the wild but went missing within a year and is now presumed dead. He had no pack mates to help him hunt. Having only three legs could have been so compromising he just couldn’t survive alone.
The lobo population in New Mexico is down to only 15 animals; a reduction by nearly half from the prior year. No one knows why it fell so much, but with leg-hold traps and snares legally allowed where wolves can be, the threat is just one more of the human-caused reasons that keep our wolf population from thriving.
Wolves in the Southwest were exterminated decades ago by people thinking they were making our wild lands safe for livestock. At last, we realize how important wolves are for the balance of nature and a functioning ecosystem and are restoring them to the Gila region where they belong.
With so few wolves, it is imperative that no threat be overlooked or deemed inconsequential. Traps and snares are a threat to them and I fervently hope the Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will respond favorably to petitions filed by WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club, the Southwest Environmental Center and others to prohibit these cruel devices where wolves should be roaming freely.