*Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comment from NM Game and Fish.

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – A group of environmental protection organizations is asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list coyotes as “endangered.” Their claimed reasoning: People keep killing Mexican gray wolves after mistaking them for coyotes.

Mexican gray wolves are currently protected under federal law as an endangered species. But, a group of advocates, including the Western Watersheds Project, and members from a dozen other organizations claim that illegal killings and human-caused wolf deaths are the main roadblocks to the recovery of Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest.

Regional wildlife managers do try to educate hunters about the differences between the two similar-looking canine species. But, according to the advocates filing the petition, that education isn’t enough, and wolves are still dying.

Current New Mexico rules state that there’s no limit on the number of coyotes New Mexico hunters can kill. And the current hunting rules include a side-by-side image comparison of coyotes and Mexican gray wolves to help educate hunters. The two “can be difficult to differentiate at a distance,” the rulebook notes.

Story Continues Below

New Mexico’s furbearer rulebook includes photos to help hunters differentiate the species. From NM Game and Fish.

Aislinn Maestas, a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says that the latest census shows at least 112 Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico at the end of 2021. Updated numbers will come out next year.

And Maestas says the wolves are sometimes mistaken for coyotes. “I think we have had a few mistaken mortalities,” Maestas says. “And that tends to happen, I think, whenever it occurs outside of where the known range is for Mexican wolves.”

For example, if you live in an area where you know there are coyotes but aren’t sure there are wolves, you’re more likely to think that that coyote-like animal is a coyote, Maestas explains. So to help reduce that, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working on increasing awareness, Maestas adds.

While it’s unclear just how often wolves are killed after being mistaken as coyotes, the groups filing the petition do have an investigation report from a wolf killed in 2008. The partially-redacted report shows that the person who allegedly killed the wolf near Gila Hot Springs, New Mexico told investigators they “shot the canine without hesitating,” thinking that it was a coyote or dog bothering a group of cattle. It wasn’t until after the person approached the carcass that they realized it was a Mexican gray wolf, the report notes.

KRQE News 13 asked whether or not Maestas thinks the proposal to protect coyotes, as a way to protect wolves is a good idea. Maestas says they don’t comment on any petitions for listing new species.

KRQE News 13 also reached out to New Mexico Game and Fish. They say they’ve just received notice of the proposal to protect coyotes and will take time to consider it. The federal government has 90 days to decide whether or not to move forward with the petition to protect coyotes.