Photo credit: Jim Clark/USFWS
For immediate release: June 14, 2023
Cyndi Tuell, Western Watersheds Project, (520) 272-2454; firstname.lastname@example.org
Emily Renn, Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project, (928) 202-1325; email@example.com
Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity, (575) 313-7017, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sally Paez, New Mexico Wild, (505) 350-0664, email@example.com
PHOENIX, Ariz. – Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it has returned Asha, Mexican wolf #2754, to the wilds of Arizona. She was captured in January for wandering outside of the arbitrary management zone and heading north into the southern Rocky Mountains of New Mexico. Her journey last winter broke new ground and sent her east of Interstate 25, across Interstate 40, and up near Taos.
“Asha is a courageous young wolf, and we’re thrilled she’s once again free to continue living her life on her own terms,” said Cyndi Tuell, Arizona and New Mexico director of Western Watersheds Project. “It’s scientifically indefensible and inherently unfair that wolves need to stay south of Interstate 40. Wolves like Asha have shown, time and time again, that this purely political boundary is ecologically irrelevant.”
Under the current Mexican gray wolf reintroduction rule, Mexican wolves are confined to the areas of Arizona and New Mexico south of Interstate 40. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations provide for the removal of any Mexican wolf found beyond this boundary. However, leading scientists have said that habitat in and around Grand Canyon National Park and in the southern Rocky Mountains are key places for new populations of Mexican wolves to establish themselves and ensure real recovery. Conservation organizations are currently in court challenging this boundary.
“Welcome back home, Asha!” said Emily Renn, executive director of the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project. “I can only imagine what it is like for a wandering, wild-born wolf to go through when they are confined in captivity for no good reason. The agencies responsible for Mexican wolf management need to acknowledge that dispersing long-distances is an inherent natural behavior for many wolves and needs to be incorporated into their recovery and not denied for these endangered wide-ranging mammals.”
“Asha was simply following her wild instincts to find unoccupied suitable habitat,” said Sally Paez, staff attorney for New Mexico Wild. “Agency policy that restricts the natural expansion of the Mexican gray wolf population is counterproductive to the recovery of these critically endangered animals and the overall health of our southwestern ecosystems.”
“We celebrate Asha’s rightful return to the wild!” said Renee Seacor, carnivore conservation advocate for Project Coyote and The Rewilding Institute. “Wolves dispersing throughout their ancestral range and into suitable habitats is ecologically imperative for the full recovery of the species.”
“We’re excited that Asha is back in the wild, where she belongs,” said Sandy Bahr, director of Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “Asha was captured and put into captivity for merely doing what wild wolves do – wandering over large distances. She was doing her part for wolf recovery, we need the agencies to do theirs and to let these animals disperse.”
“Asha should never have been captured and taken into captivity in the first place–wolves should be allowed to roam where they will,” said Chris Smith, southwest wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “But, it’s great to see Asha being released back into the wild where she belongs.”
“It’s great to know that Asha is once again free,” said Michael Robinson, senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “She can’t understand the hardball livestock industry politics that led her into confinement but she surely loves her liberty. I hope by the time she or one of her future pups sets out on another such journey, a court will have ordered the government to finally follow the science and allow wolves to roam.”
“Asha’s story is both a tale of human imposition and wild resilience,” said Maggie Howell, executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center. “Her unnecessary capture stood in stark contrast to her instinctive drive to seek out suitable habitats. Today, as she steps back into her rightful home, we are reminded of our duty to ensure policies align with the inherent instincts and ecological needs of the world’s most endangered gray wolves.”
The Mexican gray wolf is an endangered subspecies of the gray wolf that the federal government trapped and poisoned from the U.S. Southwest almost a century ago on behalf of the livestock industry. Due to the 1973 Endangered Species Act, between 1977 and 1980, the last known wild Mexican gray wolves were captured alive to save the subspecies from extinction, and seven wolves were successfully bred in captivity. The low number of genetic founders has led to a current crisis of inbreeding.
Thanks to a lawsuit by conservationists, Mexican wolves were reintroduced to Arizona and New Mexico in 1998. In the U.S., the Fish and Wildlife Service first confined the wolves to just two national forests, but additional conservationist litigation allowed the wolves to roam up to Interstate 40 in 2015. Scientists have demonstrated that to achieve the recovery goal of the Endangered Species Act, and in particular to maximize future genetic diversity, two more populations of Mexican wolves will have to be established north of Interstate 40 in the Grand Canyon ecosystem and in the southern Rocky Mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado – the region where Asha had been captured.