Friday, July 26, 2013

Canine Security Costs for the Baghdad Embassy Double in Three Years from $24 to $50 Million

Additional Note.  A GAO memorandum to various Congressional committee chairs concerning training facilities for diplomatic security (GAO-15-808BR, September 9, 2015) indicates that State Department officials told GAO investigators that the Department "will continue to use the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' National Canine Center in Front Royal, Virginia, for canine training."  The memorandum was issued in response to efforts to consolidate diplomatic security training, but it is not surprising that canine training would not be easily moved to a centralized teaching location.  

In a redacted report released by the U.S. State Department Inspector General in May 2013, Inspection of Baghdad and Constituent Posts Iraq (ISP-I-13-24A), the IG states that several "security programs at Embassy Baghdad are atypical.  The sense and warn system (identifies, tracks, and warns employees of incoming rocket and mortar fire), biometric access control (daily iris scans or fingerprinting of local employees), emergency reaction teams, and explosives detection dogs are but a few." 

The IG’s report includes a table listing the annual costs of the unique security programs that are operational at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad:

Unique Security Programs
Annual Cost
Sense and Warn System
Biometrics Access Control Program
Biometrics Badging Program
Emergency Reaction Teams
Canine Screening Program
Electronic Countermeasures Program
Green Radio Program
Modular Tactical Operations Centers
Infrared Camera System with operators
Total Annual Operating/Maintenance Cost
Total Approximate Value of Equipment

Thus, it appears that explosives detection dogs are the largest annual security expense of the embassy.

The State Department IG stated in 2010 that the cost of canine services for the Baghdad Embassy Security Force was $24 million annually.  We reported on that in a prior blog here, as well as discussing the serious deficiencies in the canine program that the IG found at the time.    

Given that canine expenses amount to more than a third of Baghdad embassy security expenses, it is curious that the most recent Government Accountability Office report on general U.S. embassy security (GAO-08-162, January 2008) fails to mention this aspect of security at all.  Rather, the GAO emphasizes the kinds of walls and gates, and blast-resistant construction, as noted in the graphic of key security standards below.  Presumably this is not because the GAO is unaware of the use of dogs in embassies, but rather because it agrees with the IG that the Baghdad embassy is unique in this regard.

GAO Graphic of Key Security Standards for Embassies (GAO-08-162)
Numbers of Dogs at the Embassy

It is difficult to understand why canine security costs would have doubled in three years at a time when overall embassy personnel are being substantially cut or, to use bureaucratese that appears in the IG’s 2013 report, “rightsized.”  Apparently dog handlers are not being rightsized. In its 2005 search for bidders to provide security services to the Baghdad embassy, a table of guard posts and schedule of guard coverage was attached.  It appeared to list 32 separate assignments for dog handlers.  (The document is attached to Solicitation #SAQMPD05R1014.A performance audit report of March 2010 (The Bureau of Diplomatic Security Baghdad Embassy Security Force, MERO-A-10-05) specifies that there were 34 dog handlers posts in the Embassy Security Force, almost no change in five years.  That report adds the interesting datum that some of the handlers are Canadian and UK nationals where the original solicitation required that all handlers be U.S. citizens or expatriates.    

On a website page concerning its canine services, RONCO states that it “has supported the Baghdad Embassy Security Force with 117 EDD teams ….”  This presumably covers most of the period from 2005 to the present.  If RONCO supplied all the dogs for the Embassy Force (which may not be the case), it would mean that each team is working an average of two to three years.   G4S’s company newsletter for 2012 states that G4S (parent of RONCO) was awarded a five-year contract with the State Department for canine explosives detection support for the Baghdad Embassy Security Force.  It mentions no increase in the number of handlers and dogs. Thus, it does not appear that the number of dogs in use at any one time, at least for perimeter security, has substantially increased. 

In its 2010 “limited-scope review” of the canine programs that the State Department contracted with, the IG “found systematic weaknesses in canine test procedures that call into question the ability of the canines to effectively detect explosives.”  RONCO took issue with the IG’s conclusions at the time.  It must be wondered why State is now paying twice as much as it was only three years ago in a country that it no longer views as a war zone.  The Benghazi attack no doubt helped fuel embassy security, but this would only explain the increase in canine team costs if the number of teams substantially increased.  Nor would it seem rational to explain it as an expense required to correct the deficiencies the IG found in 2010, particularly when the contractor disagreed with those findings.  

Effect of Military Drawdown in Iraq

The answer as to why canine security now costs twice what it did three years ago may lie in the effects of the military drawdown in Iraq.  The Department of Defense Inspector General stated in 2009 that the "U.S. military drawdown will affect protection of the new embassy compound in Baghdad, as well as convoy security provided by the military for goods brought into Iraq to support embassy operations." This report (MERO-A-09-10) noted that there are "approximately 1,900 guards in the Baghdad Embassy Security Force who maintain the embassy's perimeter security." There are also 1,300 personal security specialists associated with the embassy.  The following paragraph from the report suggests one area where the State Department may have had to pick up expenses formerly paid by the Defense Department:

"The U.S. military provides convoy security (armored vehicle motorcades) for equipment, supplies, food, and fuel brought into Iraq to support embassy operations. According to the embassy’s management officer, the security situation in Iraq prevents the procurement of local food stuffs. Also, there is no “clean” (appropriately refined) fuel available in Iraq, so fuel must be transported by truck to the Embassy from Kuwait. As the military continues its drawdown, the smaller number of military personnel will likely reduce its ability to protect embassy supply convoys."

The report then states that contracts "with private security providers for movement protection will substantially increase the cost to the Department" with regard to truck convoys supplying food and fuel. Visiting delegations and dignitaries also require substantial use of dogs to sweep areas in hotels, business locations, routes along which motorcades will travel, etc. Another 2013 State Department IG Audit (AUD-MERO-13-25), this one of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security relating specifically to Baghdad movement security, mentions dog handlers among those with “protective service positions responsible for actually conducting movement security missions.”  The audit indicates that 20 personnel are required for the “Embassy Program, the Airport Option Program, and the INL-Iraq Program.”  If 20 dogs and handlers were added to the costs listed in the 2013 audit overall Baghdad embassy security costs, this could explain much of the increase.   

What Dogs Do for the Baghdad Embassy

In 2005, the State Department provided details concerning the dogs it wanted for Baghdad (Solicitation No. SAQMPD05R1014). Working dogs are to have “completed a certified training program from a properly certified, licensed, and industry recognized dog kennel, school, or dog trainer.”  They are to be “certified as having met the Department of Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) standards.”  Further they must “maintain a calm temperament at all times and possess certificates of training equal to that of the Department of the Treasury Odor Recognition Proficiency standard for EOD canines.”  They must “be able to recognize common explosives used by bombers today.”  Six explosives were specifically mentioned in 2005:
  • Black Powder (free flowing, time fuse, or safety fuse)
  • Double-base Smokeless Powder
  • Dynamite (containing EGDN and NG)
  • PETN-based Detonating cord
  • RDX-based Detonating cord or C-4
  • TNT
Part of the IG’s criticism in 2010 was that dogs had only been trained on five of the six mandatory odors.

Dogs must be “selected from large, tractable, intelligent breeds in their prime and in good health.” Certain alerting procedures are required:

“The dog shall be trained to disregard artificial detractors/substances purposely placed in the article to confuse the dog.  The dog shall be trained not to paw or retrieve an explosive or chemical once it has been located; it must be trained to sit to alert the handler that he has located explosive materials.  In addition to sense of smell, the dog must be eager to perform this type of work.  The animal must be healthy, possess a stable temperament and be anxious to please its handler.  A minimum of two hour a day training is required, is invoiced as productive time, and may be suspended by the COR [Contracting Officer’s Representative] as necessary.”
Among artificial detractors used to hide IEDs, according to a U.S. Marine Corps Medical Battalion training manual, are animal carcasses, trash, dirt piles, and even human cadavers.  The requirement of using a sit alert is somewhat curious, since dogs often sit when not moving.  A more definitive signal is to train the dog to lie down, which many explosives-detection dog trainers prefer.  Training dogs daily is optimal, but many U.S. law enforcement agencies make this virtually impossible.
Dogs inspect “all incoming packages, parcels, boxes, containers, vehicles, compounds, facilities and/or other items for the presence of explosives or explosive devices.”  They are to provide “early warning of impending danger from terrorists and other sources.”  Apparently they might be deployed off the Embassy grounds as they are also to provide “assistance in thwarting terrorist acts directed against the local U.S. Diplomatic community.”  Dogs and handlers participate with the Quick Reaction Force, if necessary.

Part of the original Solicitation in 2005 included the following sentences:  

"The dog must be trained to conduct perimeter/patrol searches for the purpose of detecting potential threats to the location being guarded.  The dog must also be trained to respond to commands from the dog handler in threatening situations.  The dog will be trained to use the necessary force to restrain assailants and/or unwelcome intruders."

The Department explained that since the dogs were supposed to be Explosive Ordinance Detection Dogs (EOD dogs), the addition of these sentences to the Solicitation meant that the dogs were to be dual-trained, i.e., to be patrol/attack dogs as well. Because of confusion this was causing, and the fact that some bidders were only capable of providing EOD dogs, the Department deleted these sentences from the Solicitation.  If more dual-trained dogs are now in use in Baghdad, this could explain a small part of the increased expense.  It must be noted, however, that many dogs are imported from Europe by American contractors and are already trained to do bite work before they are sent to Iraq (though contractors may still charge more for a dog if this skill is present).

Handler Qualifications for Baghdad

Handlers must be or have the following:
  • U.S. citizens or expatriates.  (As noted above, this may not be a strict requirement.)
  • Native English speakers.
  • At least 21 years old.
  • Minimum three years of military, similar police, or local guard force experience.
  • Passing of physical fitness test.
  • Proficiency in the detection of explosives.
  • Competent dog handling skills
  • Familiarity with physical security and access control matters.
  • Marksman-level of weapon qualification in weapons carried.
It is curious that the list calls for marksman-level qualification for weapons, but only competence in dog handling. As to care for the dogs, they are to “be housed in clean facilities while not on duty.”  Shifts were not to be so long that the dog would not maintain “a high state of alertness and attentiveness.”

One possible reason for part of the increase is that dog handlers may be getting higher pay.  A State Department IG performance evaluation of DynCorp (MERO-IQO-09-06), which provides protective services in Iraq, noted several times that the company has had “difficulty maintaining staff in two personal security specialist labor categories, dog handlers and designated marksmen.”  

Afghan Canine Program May Lose Funding

While the State Department may funding an increase its use of canine teams, in May the Department of Defense released a report on the Afghan border police (DODIG-2013-081) which states that a canine program developed by coalition forces and German Police Training Teams for those police may not be funded after the withdrawal of coalition forces in 2014. The program currently has 26 dogs with Afghan dog handlers being monitored by the Germans. 

The report says that "neither Coalition forces nor the German Police Training Teams had planned funding post-2014 to continue the program."  No alternative funding sources have been identified, so presumably the Afghan government does not value the program. The report says that discontinuance of the program will "degrade security screening at key crossing sites" and recommends that the NATO commander work with the Afghan Ministry of the Interior and the Afghan Border Police to find a funding source.


The overall cost of security for Iraq operations increased from 2008 through 2010, from approximately $305 million to $594 million according to an Iraq Operations Resource Summary.  Even the State Department may be a little unsure of some of the expenses, as its May 2013 inspection report notes that some budget numbers “are generally accurate, but others, such as canine screening and emergency reaction team program costs, are opaque to the mission because Washington controls them.”  Still, someone must be able to get to the bottom of what all this is costing.   

This dramatic increase in canine security costs seems most likely to be due to the shift of certain costs from military operations to embassy operations, i.e., from the Defense Department to the State Department, though there may be other explanations for at least parts of the increase. One must hope that the State Department's Inspector General will examine this issue in the near future.

An overall study that would be of considerable value, a subject for a Congressional committee or the GAO, would be to compare the costs that the military dropped and State picked up. Just because State took over functions from the Department of Defense does not mean that it is paying the same for those functions.  If the military was using military personnel, then some of the dogs would have been Military Working Dogs, not Contract Working Dogs as the State Department primarily uses.  It would be useful for appropriations committees to know whether the general shift to contractors and CWDs is cost-effective. There is reason for concern.  Some of the WikiLeaks documents, discussed here almost two years ago, indicated that State Department officials were often ignorant of canine functions and procedures. 

The military has been said to prefer to have deaths from IEDs not listed among military casualties in places like Iraq, so an overall study should also verify whether cost savings (if such there are) are being accompanied by any reduction in casualties. 

This blog was written by John Ensminger and L.E. Papet.  The authors thank Dennis Civiello and Eric Krieger for suggestions.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

NY Court Approves Use of Therapy Dog during Testimony of 15-Year Old Abused by Her Father

An appellate decision handed down on July 10 puts New York in the column of states that allow trained dogs to accompany vulnerable witnesses during testimony.  The case involved a 15-year old girl testifying against her father, who had abused her for four years.  I have added a description of the case to a running article posted on the website of Michigan State University’s Animal Legal and Historical Center (see Part II for discussion of Tohom).

Monday, July 22, 2013

Breeding Sled Dogs to Support Mushing Hobby is a Business, so Homeowner’s Policy Does Not Cover Bite

Paul Hougas, an aficionado of mushing for ten years, had three adult Siberian huskies, a male and two females.  In addition to using the dogs for his passion, he sold puppies from their litters.  The puppies were advertised in the Chicago Sun Times at $450 each, though lower prices were always reached with buyers. 

Hougas apparently did not regard the mushing, or the breeding of his dogs, as a business.  According to the Illinois appellate court, he “never claimed business losses on his tax return as a result of his mushing activities. He also never wrote off any business expenses or depreciated equipment in connection with his mushing.”

Jocelyn Davis came to the Hougas’ home looking for a puppy to purchase.  At the time of her visit, Hougas had 13 puppies for sale from two litters.  Each female husky had a litter, both fathered by the male.  While looking at the puppies, Davis was bitten by the adult male dog. She filed suit against Paul and Lana Hougas under the Illinois Animal Control Act to recover damages for the dog bite. 

Hougas sought indemnification under the homeowner’s policy he and his wife had with Allstate.  That policy contained a business activities exclusion stating: “We do not cover bodily injury or property damage arising out of the past or present business activities of an insured person.”  A business was defined as “any full or part-time activity of any kind engaged in for economic gain including the use of any part of any premises for such purposes.”

The trial court granted summary judgment to Allstate, finding that the exclusion applied. Davis appealed, presumably because she could not expect to recover significant damages from the Hougases alone. 

Appellate Decision

The Illinois Appellate Court, 3d District, noted that in determining whether a business activities exclusion applies in a dispute, Illinois courts apply a two-part test:
  1. Was the activity regular and continuous?
  2. Did the activity provide at least some portion of the insured’s livelihood?
Allstate Insurance Co. v. Mathis, 302 Ill.App.3d 1027, 706 N.E.2d 893 (1999).  Davis argued that there were questions of fact precluding summary judgment in her case, so the appellate court summarized the facts:

“Paul had been involved in mushing for at least 10 years. He kept the adult dogs in separate kennels, and had to put them together for the purpose of mating. Both female dogs had other litters previously, and the puppies had been advertised for sale in the Chicago Sun Times. He had sold or given away all of the puppies, and at least 10 puppies had been sold, for a maximum of $400.”

Davis argued that Hougas was motivated by a cost recovery motive rather than a profit motive, essentially that he was breeding the dogs to cover some of the costs of the expensive mushing hobby.  The trial court had concluded that there was a profit motive, and the appellate court agreed, saying that “there was no evidence to support any other conclusion… There was no evidence that Paul Hougas ever kept any of the puppies, or that the puppies were necessary for some purpose related to mushing.” 

The appellate court said that the trail court had been correct in finding that there was no genuine issue of material fact and affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment. 


It is quite likely that Paul Hougas did not see his activity as a business, but the case is correctly decided.  It was, in fact, a business, even though mushing was undoubtedly a hobby, probably a somewhat expensive one if Hougas traveled very far to use the dogs. 

Had the bite occurred when there were no puppies in the house, and no advertisements in the Chicago Sun Times, the issue of the breeding business might never have come up.  Since the mushing was a hobby and not a business engaged in for profit, and presumably provided no portion of Hougas's livelihood, it would have been more difficult for Allstate to deny coverage because of a business exclusion. 

People trying to fly under the radar of tax and licensing authorities in maintaining small-scale breeding operations should take note of this case.  The reason for the business exclusion in a homeowner’s policy is that the insurance company expects someone running a business, even a small-scale one like this, to have separate insurance coverage for that activity.  Of course, paying for business insurance may make the activity more visible to other authorities, meaning that the business may be subject to business taxes and licensing fees that would make it even less profitable. Still, for individuals who are not judgment-proof, getting the insurance may be economically wise in the long run.

Allstate Insurance Co. v. Davis, 2013 Ill.App.3d 120646-U, 2013 WL 3154966 (Ct.App. 2013)

A dispute on whether to euthanize a sled dog is presently taking place in Alaska.  A girl visiting the sled dog farm of Jake Berkowitz was attacked by a dog, Wizard, that broke loose from his chain.  A Mat-Su Borough Commission deadlocked in June over Wizard’s fate.  Berkowitz is a well-known Iditarod sledder.  Thanks to Eric Krieger for telling me about this case. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Obama Administration Declares Gray Wolves No Longer Endangered Except for 75 Mexican Wolves in Arizona and New Mexico

Reopening of Comment Period. On February 10, 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the reopening of the comment period on its June 13, 2013, release (79 Fed. Reg. 7627).  The comment period is now scheduled to close on March 27, 2014.  Anyone unable to comment earlier should do so now. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to get out of the wolf preservation business altogether.  It will accept a very limited responsibility for a remnant of 75 Mexican wolves, a subspecies of gray wolf, struggling to survive in the forests between New Mexico and Arizona. The agency handicaps its odds even there by saying that the task is hopeless so nothing should be expected by anyone, least of all the wolves. (The announcement of the proposed change consists of 80 pages in the Federal Register: 78 Fed. Reg. 35664, June 13, 2013.)

Sadly, it appears that President Obama believes that the Endangered Species Act is being respected.  Celebrating the 160th anniversary of the Department of the Interior, on March 3, 2009, the President was quoted as saying: "For more than three decades, the Endangered Species Act has successfully protected our nation's most threatened wildlife, and we should be looking for ways to improve it, not weaken it."  He claimed that the Act had been "undermined by past administrations," a comment that drew applause, according to news reportsIf the current proposal is enacted, it has to be said that President Obama is doing more to destroy the goals of the Endangered Species Act with regard to gray wolves than any of his predecessors.

The logic behind taking wolves off the endangered list in 42 other states is based on the following arguments:
  1.  Wolves in the Eastern U.S. are protected as Canis lupus, but most of them are really Canis lycaon or Canis rufus, separate species, and since Canis lupus was not in this area in the distant past, it not does need to be protected there.  Fish and Wildlife will “study” what to do about Canis lycaon, but at the moment will do nothing. (Canis rufus remains listed as endangered where found in the southeastern and mid-Atlantic U.S. as detailed at 32 Fed. Reg. 4001, March 11, 1967.)
  2. Wolves, Canis lupus, are doing just fine in the Western Great Lakes Region and the Northern Rocky Mountains, so they do not need any more help from Fish and Wildlife, as the agency previously determined and as was discussed earlier here.  Although already delisted in those areas, Fish and Wildlife believes that some of the wolves will move into other areas as populations stabilize.
  3. Wolves in the Pacific Northwest are not doing well, but they are getting too close to urban centers, roads, agriculture, and people, so not much can be done because these areas have been “irreversibly modified for human use.”  Besides, there are plenty of wolves in Canada that can cross the border if they want to expand their range.  Canada, Fish and Wildlife points out, does an even worse job of trying to protect its wolves than the U.S. does, but the wolves are for the most part not endangered in Canada despite being hunted and trapped for pelts and killed for the sport of it.
  4. Wolves everywhere else in the western U.S. are doing well enough under the “best available scientific and commercial information” that they can be forgotten. It is not so much that there is evidence they will survive but rather that there is “no substantial evidence” that they will not. 
Not stated, but I suspect a major argument in deliberations inside the Department of the Interior, is the fact that forgetting about wolves will be a budget savings at a time when the Obama administration wants to concentrate resources elsewhere.  

Current Status of Wolves as Endangered and Threatened Wildlife

To see how massive this proposed change will be for wolves, take a moment to look at the following map of the U.S. showing in dark gray the current area of the U.S. where wolves are listed as endangered.  Only along the northern border of our country are they deemed to be recovered.  The cross-hatched areas in Arizona and New Mexico will, if the proposed rules are finalized, be the only place where Fish and Wildlife will continue to provide even nominal protection.
Current Gray Wolf Endangered Species Act Status

Eastern Wolf (Canis lycaon)

In 2011, Fish and Wildlife proposed delisting gray wolves in 29 states in the eastern U.S., as discussed in a prior blog. That proposal was not finalized and is now replaced by a proposal to delist gray wolves in 42 states. In 2011, the agency said it would be looking at the status of the other wolf species or subspecies in those states, but as has been true for most of the Obama administration, the agency’s focus continues to be on what it no longer needs to do, rather than on what it should do for wolves.  So rather than determining whether protection is needed for Canis lycaon (called eastern wolves or eastern timber wolves in the 2011 release), the agency uses historical range as an excuse to withdraw protection from gray wolves where it has now determined that they are only interlopers.  Of course, there is little concern about protecting hybrid groups in areas between the different types of wolves which Fish and Wildlife labels “ambiguous zones of admixture.”  

Canis lycaon was listed as endangered in 1967 but that was removed when it was declared not to be a separate species but a subspecies of gray wolf in 1978 (43 Fed. Reg. 9607, March 9, 1978). Although not disturbing its prior determination of Canis rufus as endangered, the renewed species status for Canis lycaon does not revive its prior endangered status.  Fish and Wildlife states that “we are not prepared to make a determination on the conservation status of C. lycaon throughout its range in the United States and Canada at this time.” (I hope that I am wrong that Fish and Wildlife is ignoring its responsibilities and that within a couple of weeks there will be more about eastern wolves in the Federal Register, but until I see such a release I am not prepared to eat any words.)

Mexican Wolf Protection

USFWS Photo of Mexican Wolf
The Mexican wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf referred to throughout the June release as Canis lupus baileyi, is the only winner, if it can be called that, in Fish and Wildlife’s June 2013 pronouncement.  The agency had no choice but to conclude that the subspecies “continues to warrant endangered status.”  In summarizing scientific studies, the pronouncement notes that this subspecies “may represent the last surviving remnant of the initial wave of gray wolf migration into North America.”  Scientists have argued for that gray wolves crossed in at least three waves from Eurasia into Alaska during the Pleistocene.  (Dogs came over the same way with humans, and here also there are interesting questions about how many times it happened, and the extent of reverse migrations.)  

The degree of danger to the Mexican wolf is considerable. Wayne and Hedrick (2011) state: 

"Mexican wolves are quite different from NRM [Northern Rocky Mountain] wolves because they all descend from captive animals, have initially a much higher level of inbreeding, suffer a higher rate of human-caused mortality, and ... have a much more precarious probability of persistence." 

According to Fish and Wildlife:

“A single gray wolf population (C.l. baileyi), of at least 75 wolves (as of December 31, 2012) inhabits the southwestern United States today in central Arizona and New Mexico.  In Mexico, efforts to reestablish a wild population … began in 2011.  Of eight wolves released between October 2011 and October 2012, two wolves are “fate unknown,” four are confirmed dead, and two are alive as of January 2, 2013 …. In addition, a captive population of 240 to 300 C.l. baileyi exists in the United States and Mexico today in about 50 captive breeding facilities.” 

This represents something of an improvement since, in 1976, no wild Mexican wolf populations were known to remain in the U.S. or Mexico. A few were thought to live in the Sierra Madres.  Fish and Wildlife began introducing captive-born C.l. baileyi to the wild in 1998. Some are found on the Fort Apache and White Mountain Apache lands of Arizona and New Mexico.  The agency is hoping to get the population up to 100 and has posted a detailed Mexican Wolf Conservation Assessment.

The subspecies inhabits pine-oak woodlands in Arizona and New Mexico, as well as mixed-conifer forests in the Rocky Mountains.  They can feed on mule deer and white-tailed deer but show a strong preference for elk when available.  Fires have been a major threat, as have trapping and other hunting (mostly illegal), disease, and road kills by vehicles (the latter accounting for about 15% of deaths).  Fortunately, according at least to Fish and Wildlife, “public polling data in Arizona and New Mexico shows that most respondents have positive feelings about wolves and support the reintroduction of C.l. baileyi.”

Hybridization with dogs is a rare event, but Fish and Wildlife does not like it:

“Three confirmed hybridization events between C. l. baileyi and dogs have been documented since the reintroduction project began in 1998. In the first two cases, hybrid litters were humanely euthanized…. In the third case, four of five pups were humanely euthanized; the fifth pup, previously observed by project personnel but not captured, has not been located and its status is unknown…. No hybridization between C. l. baileyi and coyotes has been confirmed through ourgenetic monitoring of coyotes, wolves, and dogs that are captured in the wild.”

Fish and Wildlife also recognizes that inbreeding can be a problem with small populations and wolves in several lineages are not showing “reproductive fitness.”  This is measured by “semen quality, sperm cell morphology and motility of sperm cells,” which in those lineages have deteriorated. 

As to its target population of 100 wild Mexican wolves, the agency acknowledges:

“At its current size of a minimum of 75 wolves, and even at the current population target of at least 100 wild wolves, the BRWRA [Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area] population is, by demographic measures, considered small …. and has a low probability of persistence. The viability of the population when it reaches its target of at least 100 wolves remains unquantified, although qualitatively this target is significantly below estimates of viability appearing in the scientific literature and gray wolf recovery plans, which suggest hundreds to over a thousand wolves are necessary for long-term persistence in the wild.”

In other words, don’t blame us if our reintroduction efforts fail and they don’t survive.  The recovery area of the Mexican wolf is shown in the following map from the most recent official Assessment.  Most wolves are inside the red boundary. 

Mexican Wolf Recovery Area
It is worth noting that the total number of red wolves in the Southeastern U.S. is not much more than that of Mexican wolves in the Southwest, somewhere between 90 and 110 according to the latest Recovery Program update.  There are additionally about 200 red wolves in captivity, some of which are breeding for reintroduction into what is left of their natural habitat. 


My wife and I were driving north on I-87 from New York City a few days ago when just past Newburgh we saw a turtle on the freeway in front of us.  People were slowing down, some honking to alert those behind them. The turtle had somehow made it across three lanes with only half a lane to go.  We could see it pulling forward with its small legs as I passed over it.  The car behind me also carefully straddled the animal, but the next one, with a driver swerving left and right to express his annoyance at the delay before him, hit and crushed it.  The poor little animal never had much of a chance but it depressed us that it had come so close to crossing such a wide and perilous obstacle course.  Five or so cars more and it would have been on the shoulder. 

That is much the fate of wolves.  It is not the intentional slaughter that is the biggest enemy any more.  It is indifference, ignorance, isolation from nature, intolerance of needs other than our own, and worst of all progress—more roads, more developments, more strip malls, more and more people—that is dooming those elements of wildness still left within our reach.  As to the Government, indifference comes from budgetary constraints, bureaucratic double-speak, insisting that hybrids do not count, fear of rules too burdensome for ranchers and hunters and hence voters, inability to manage public expectations about preserves, administrative triaging of nature, failure to think like Teddy Roosevelt once did, all in all playing God as that glorious President said we could not afford to do any more.  The wolves may survive for a time, but with the attitude of the Fish and Wildlife Service, we will wake up one day and the ancestors of our dogs will be gone from the United States.  Then we will have to hope that Canada does not remain indifferent.

Thanks to Kingsbury Parker, L.E. Papet, Yva Momatiuk, Ronald Keats, and Suzanne Boule for comments and corrections.


For a draft of a comment that can be submitted on the proposed delisting or sent to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, go the website of Defenders of Wildlife.  For letters already sent to the Obama administration on the proposal, see the website of Common DreamsA copy of the complaint filed in February by The Humane Society of the United States, Born Free USA, Help Our Wolves Live, and Friends of Animals and Their Environment to stop the earlier Great Lakes delisting proposal is posted on the USFWS website.

In response to an earlier draft of this blog, Kingsbury Parker sent some trenchant observations concerning what is happening in Washington State that I think are worth quoting in full:

“Washington State has both strong wolf support groups of Democrats west of the mountains and strong anti-wolf sentiment in Republicans east of the mountains.  Delisting will certainly result in a decline for wolf populations that are in conflict with the ranchers who have been complaining for years now.  The large portions of land devoted to agriculture should not be affected.  There is also a substantial area of forest in the northeast which is nearly unpopulated by humans that may provide some refuge for wolves.  Unfortunately, cattle ranchers here, in general, are not interested in being educated as to the positive effects of wolves on the entire ecosystem nor do they want to know how ranchers in the northeast and Great Lakes states have been coping with increased wolf populations.  I do not think that there will be much increase in the destruction of habitat in eastern Washington State during the next 25 years as the land there is mostly devoted to farming of some sort.  With increased global warming these northern lands may become more popular however.  On the bright side, so to speak, is the fact that eastern Washington has a nasty climate to begin with as it is hot in the summer and cold in the winter.  This summer they are seeing 120 degrees F in many locations so that will help stifle population growth as global warming picks up steam.  Habitat destruction may also effect human population growth such that some kind of balance in achieved but many species are going to be lost no matter what we do as this glacial epoch is coming to a close and ice will cease to exist in several thousand years.”

L.E. Papet forwarded the following studies worthy of consideration by anyone looking to understand the idiocy of Fish and Wildlife's policy from a scientific perspective: 

Esenberg, Cristina, Seager, S. Trent, and Hibbs, David E. (2013). Wolf, Elk, and Aspen Food Web Relationships: Context and Complexity.  Forest Ecology and Management,

Raikkonen, Jannikke, Vucetich, John A., Vucetich, Leah M., Peterson, Rolf O., and Nelson, Michael P. (2013). What the Inbred Scandinavian Wolf Population Tells Us about the Nature of Conservation. PLOS/One, 8(6), e67218. These authors note that "the high rate of congenital anomalies that Scandinavian wolves suffer is a manifestation of poor population health that would be mitigated by larger population size and increased immigration, insomuch as they would mitigate the genetic deterioration that is almost certainly the cause of many of these anomalies. For this reason, instituting a public harvest of wolves designed to limit abundance at this time is almost certainly inconsistent with the conservation goal of a healthy wolf population, insomuch as limiting abundance would exacerbate genetic deterioration, at least until the time when rates of natural immigration are great enough to support the population’s genetic health and the conservation status is favourable." Unfortunately, this is precisely the sort of logic that Fish and Wildlife should be employing, but quite evidently fails to understand. 

Ripple, William J., Wirsing, Aaron J., Wilmers, Christopher C., and Letric, Mike (2013). Widespread Mesopredator Effects after Wolf Extirpation.  Biological Conservation, 160, 70-79 (finding that the loss of an apex predator, the wolf is contributing to the potential extinction of other vertebrate species in parts of the American west). 

Wayne, R., and Hedrick, P. (2011).  Genetics and Wolf Conservation in the American West: Lessons and Challenges.  Heredity, 107, 16-19. 

Yule, Jeffrey V., Fournier, Robert J., and Hindmarsh, Patrick L. (2013). Biodiversity, Extinction, and Humanity's Future: The Ecological and Evolurtionary Consequences of Human Population and Resource Use.  Humanities, 2013(2), 147-159; doi:10.3390/h2020147 ("Desiring more game species, for instance, humans typically hunt predators .... Yet removing or adding predators has far reaching effects. Wolf removal has led to prey overpopulation, plant over browsing, and erosion. After wolves were removed from Yellowstone National Park, the K [number of members of a species supported by an area without deterioration of the area's ability to support the species in the future] of elk increased. This allowed for a shift in elk feeding patterns that left fewer trees alongside rivers, thus leaving less food for beaver and, consequently, fewer beaver dams and less wetland....").