Commentary: Newly released, groundbreaking maps conclusively demonstrate the importance of maintaining landscape connectivity between Northern Arizona and the Gila National Forest for Mexican wolf recovery. The maps, developed using sophisticated connectivity analysis software, were spearheaded by Wildlands Network and Grand Canyon Wildands Council to assess the relative significance of lands within and immediately surrounding the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s designated Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area (MWEPA) for wolf dispersal, which is key to eventual recovery.
The analysis assumes existing wilderness areas offer the most desirable home range habitat for Mexican wolves, due to their remote and intact nature. Using these areas as “focal points” for wolf habitat, data such as terrain ruggedness and human development was then analyzed to determine likely movement patterns for wolves between the areas based on known behavior patterns. The findings suggest public lands, especially national forest lands, in Arizona and New Mexico offer some of the best habitat for wolves trying to disperse across the MWEPA.
“The Forest Service, along with all public land managers in the Southwest, have a duty to assist Mexican wolf recovery through responsible management,” said Kim Crumbo, conservation director for Wildlands Network. “We hope that by providing these agencies with better information about likely wolf movement patterns, they can take proactive measures to maintain the ecological integrity of habitat and to implement human-wolf conflict avoidance strategies, which together are critical to successful recovery of the Lobo."
Mexican wolves have slowly dispersed throughout the MWEPA from the initial re-introduction area in the Blue Range region of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. Critical to Mexican wolf recovery is the establishment of sufficient numbers of breeding pairs of wolves across the landscape and a healthy prey base to support the wolves.
“This new map clearly confirms the location of a major wildlife corridor we call the Aldo Leopold wildlife corridor, from western New Mexico’s Gila wilderness complex and Arizona's Blue Range, across the magnificent Mogollon Rim to the San Francisco Peaks near Grand Canyon,” said Kelly Burke, executive director of Grand Canyon Wildlands Council. “Mexican wolves, mule deer, elk and other wildlife need these habitats preserved intact and functioning to move and thrive. This is science that brings Forest Service staff and the public together to steward landscape connectivity, a significant natural value of these wild places, central to saving our Southwest wildlife.”
NGOs in Arizona and New Mexico are actively working with the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management to develop workable management strategies to promote wolf recovery and minimize human-wolf conflict. This new analysis will help land managers and conservationists identify likely areas of wolf movement, which can then be properly monitored and managed to achieve shared goals.
“This report underscores the vital importance of unfragmented and roadless public lands to Mexican gray wolf recovery,” said Mark Allison, executive director of New Mexico Wild. “Everyone concerned about restoring this iconic species to the land should make their voices heard in the ongoing Forest Service planning processes. Much critical habitat and wilderness quality lands remain unprotected, and we call on the Forest Service to see they are conserved.”
Wildlands Network and Grand Canyon Wildlands Council hope the new maps will serve as tools for state and federal agencies and incentivize planning to maintain connectivity for native wildlife in Arizona and New Mexico.
The analysis for this project was completed by Birds Eye View GIS and generously funded by the New-Land and Patagonia Foundations. It uses Circuitscape software, a connectivity modeling tool widely-respected within the scientific community. The software applies concepts from electronic circuit theory to identify optimal pathways for movement of wildlife across landscapes.
Additional maps and detailed information about the technical aspects of this project are available upon request.
Wildlands Network envisions a world where nature is unbroken, and where humans co-exist in harmony with the land and its wild inhabitants. Our mission is to reconnect, restore, and rewild North America so life in all its diversity can thrive.
Grand Canyon Wildlands Council works to protect and restore safe haven and safe passage for all the Grand Canyon region's native wild creatures great and small.
New Mexico Wild is a statewide, independent, grassroots non-profit 501 (C)(3), advocacy organization dedicated to the protection, restoration and continued respect of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. www.nmwild.org