Western Watersheds Project’s work has helped deal one more blow to the livestock industry’s war on wolves. New guidance issued by USDA’s Wildlife Services this week will help ensure that Mexican gray wolves aren’t being unfairly blamed for cattle and sheep deaths on public land, which will ultimately help the wolves stay alive and in the wild.
These new standards of evidence provide a backstop against the sloppy and sometimes fraudulent accounting of wolf-caused livestock deaths that has plagued the recovery program. Years of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and thousands of pages of critical reviews helped us begin to expose this issue in 2020. Then, last year, a major investigative report in The Intercept brought even more of the details about the deceptive reports to light. Paired with an Office of Inspector General’s report request from Senator Martin Heinrich, it became very clear that Wildlife Services was going to need to clean up its act.
This week’s new standards are a welcome step towards formally eliminating exaggerated reporting of Mexican wolf involvement in livestock kills in Arizona and New Mexico, an outcome that will help save the lives of wolves who would otherwise be permanently removed from the wild or killed once they’ve been blamed for repeat depredations.
We’re seeing the outcomes of this exposure on the ground. For example, only one wolf has been killed by the government for livestock depredations in the past three years, compared to the five killed in 2020. We believe this is due, at least in large part, to the fact that the agencies now know that we’re watching what “proof” they are using to justify their decisions. And now, with the new standards adopted by Wildlife Services, we’ll have a policy to which we can hold them legally accountable as well.
We don’t support the killing of wolves for livestock depredation on public lands, but with this long-term effort, we’ve at least ensured that ranchers can’t keep crying wolf.
Photo of Mexican gray wolf courtesy of USFWS