New petition hopes to declare coyotes endangered to save Mexican gray wolves

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – There’s a new plan to save the Mexican gray wolf – by protecting coyotes. 

“I believe the current numbers were documented about 122 Mexican gray wolves in the wild, which is an extremely low number,” said Cyndi Tuell. 

Cyndi Tuell is the Arizona and New Mexico director for the Western Watersheds Project, one of 14 conservation groups petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to declare coyotes an endangered species. They believe increasing protections for the non-endangered coyote will help prevent accidental killings of the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf. 

“We discovered that a lot of people were saying, ‘oh, I accidentally killed this Mexican gray wolf,  because I thought it was a coyote,’” Tuell said.    

The group’s petition includes several federal documents detailing incidents where people shot and killed a wolf thinking it was a coyote. One document includes an incident report from a Fish & Wildlife Service employee who made the deadly mistake several years ago. He wrote “I absolutely believe I was shooting at a coyote when I pulled the trigger.” 

Tuell says the mistake is not hard to make. 

“A young Mexican gray wolf is going to be about the same size as an adult coyote. They’re both going to be gray, brown tan with a little bit of white,” Tuell said. “Unless you spent a lot of time looking at both coyotes and wolves to know those comparisons, it is a little bit tricky to tell.” 

Tuell says the new protections would only apply in the Mexican Gray Wolf Protection Area – which covers most of southern New Mexico. The most abundant gray wolf populations in New Mexico are believed to be limited to the Gila National Forest. 

There are no regulations for coyote hunting in New Mexico. Tuell says that makes it more likely for accidental wolf killings to go unreported and unpunished. 

“Even people who admitted that they killed the wolf, if they claimed they thought it was a coyote, there wasn’t really any consequence for them,” she said. 

It’s not clear what the penalties will be for coyote killings if the new protections are approved. Tuell says the added protections will hopefully make people look twice before pulling the trigger. 

“One of the best ways to help people understand that they cannot accidentally kill a Mexican gray wolf is to take away the excuse that they thought it was a coyote,” she said. 

The petition was officially filed last Friday. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to respond. 

Tuell says New Mexico’s Game and Fish Department could implement its own restrictions on coyote hunting if the petition is declined.