Using GIS to Develop an Endangered Species Recovery Plan
by John Andrews
CE 397/ Instructor: Dr. Maidment
OBJECTIVE: To determine if Big Bend National Park and adjacent protected areas constitute a viable reintroduction site for Mexican wolves based on road density, elevation, and vegetation.
INTRODUCTION: The Mexican Wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) is extinct in the wild. This animal, one of five subspecies of gray wolves known to North America, ranged throughout central and northern Mexico and the American Southwest in pre-Columbian times. Over the past hundred years, however, Mexican wolves have been severely persecuted by man and were driven to extinction in the United States approximately fifty years ago. Though a remnant, dwindling population managed to hang on in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains of western Mexico, most wildlife biologists today believe that even these animals are now extinct and that there are thus none left in the wild.
Fortunately, before the animal had become extinct, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service captured five Mexican wolves in Mexico--a female and four males--and brought them back to the United States to start a captive-breeding program in the late 1970s. Today there are nearly 150 offspring from these original wolves populating zoos and holding pens from Phoenix to Houston. The Fish and Wildlife Service's goal is to return some of these animals back to the wild. In the mid-1980s, however, when the Fish and Wildlife Service asked the state wildlife agencies of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas to investigate possible wolf release sites in their respective states, the wildlife agencies of New Mexico and Arizona agreed to cooperate. Texas Parks and Wildlife, however, did not. As a result, extensive research has been undertaken to determine which areas in Arizona and New Mexico might be suitable wolf habitat. No such studies have been performed in Texas.
Based on these studies, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the state wildlife agencies of Arizona and New Mexico have proposed two wolf reintroduction sites- one in New Mexico (the White Sands Missile Range) and the other along the Arizona-New Mexico border (the Gila and Apache National Forests). Because Texas Parks and Wildlife refused to participate in this program, however, no potential release sites in this state have been considered or studied for Mexican wolf suitability despite many environmental groups' and individuals' claim that the Big Bend area of west Texas and northern Coahuila and Chihuahua might be an excellent reintroduction site. The purpose of this project--and my thesis--is to answer this question: Could the Big Bend region sustain a wild population of Mexican wolves?
Wildlife biologists consider a number of factors in determining which areas are suitable for wolf reintroduction, including prey density, human population density, livestock density both within and adjacent to a prospective release site, vegetation type and density, road density, and elevation. Though I will be investigating all of these factors and others for my thesis, I will focus the later three for this project.