Today – March 29 – is the 20th anniversary of the release of three Mexican gray wolf packs that would become the first of their kind to roam New Mexico in decades, but the wolf program has endured many hiccups since then.
Months after the 1998 release, five of the 11 wolves were killed by poachers. The remaining animals were taken in and paired with new mates before another release.
The wild population in New Mexico and Arizona gained just one individual from 2016 to 2017, reaching a high of 114 wolves.
Ranchers have protested the releases due to livestock kills. On the other side, conservationists have warned that failing to release more wolves will put the species back on the brink of extinction.
“It’s really an issue of human tolerance and political will at this point to break through some of those barriers and allow the wolves to occupy the landscape at a level they would set themselves,” said David Parsons, former coordinator of the Mexican wolf recovery program. “We’re nowhere near that in terms of wolves having packs that fill up all the suitable wolf habitat out there.”