Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

The Lobo, or Mexican gray wolf, listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1976 is the smallest, most genetically distinct and one of the rarest subspecies of the gray wolf. Wildlife advocates and science say a healthy wolf population supports the balance of ecosystems because predators act as checks on populations lower on the food chain which can benefit many other plant and animal species.

Wolves are highly intelligent pack animals and have been widely misunderstood through the millennia as wild and deadly beasts. They are the creatures of myth and folklore, often to their detriment. They are extremely social animals that develop very close social bonds with family members and their pack, often showing significant displays of affection and other emotions with each other. They avoid people as much as possible and are rarely seen along a highway or on a hiking trail.

 After conservation organizations sued U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) for not fulfilling their obligation to bring the Mexican gray wolves back to a healthy wild population, U.S. District Court Judge Jennifer Zipps ordered USFWS to redo the process of changing their management rule for wolves and to include correct interpretations of the best available science for the gray wolf.

 “On top of a heap of scientific literature, we once again see immense public support for real Lobo recovery. That means allowing wolves to re-establish throughout their historic range, rescuing them from genetic crisis and designating them as essential,” said Chris Smith, southwest wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “For the American public and for wolves, U.S. Fish and Wildlife needs to get it right this time.”

 Zipps set a timeline, stating her concern for an immediate need of changes to be implemented for the survival of the species. Her timeline requires an Environmental Impact Statement, sufficient public review, and a Final Rule to be completed by July 1, 2022.  

“USFWS has yet to demonstrate capacity or willingness to meet their recovery duties. Proactive actions like releasing bonded mates with pups and reforming livestock husbandry practices are essential to the recovery of this essential Lobo population,” said Michelle Lute, Ph.D. in human-wolf coexistence and national carnivore conservation manager for Project Coyote.

During a 90-day public comment period on proposed changes to a USFWS management rule that would determine the recovery success of wolves returning to the southwestern U.S., over 81,000 supporters called on USFWS to establish stronger protections for endangered Mexican gray wolves. 

The comments received during the public comment period demonstrated a large majority support for USFWS shifting focus toward measurable, science-based objectives to support the long-term conservation of Mexican wolves. “If it fails the science test, it fails the Lobo,” said Maggie Howell, the Wolf Conservation Center executive director.

“Americans again voiced overwhelming support for science-based recovery of the iconic Mexican gray wolf. It is time for the symbol of the Southwest to once again roam free,” said Patricia Estrella, New Mexico representative for Defenders of Wildlife. 

There are 186 known Mexican gray wolves in the wild in the U.S. More information is available at