Court Grants the State of New Mexico Preliminary Injunction on Mexican Gray Wolf Releases

June 10, 2016 

Contact: Catalina Tresky (202) 772-0253, ctresky@defenders.org

 

Court Grants the State of New Mexico Preliminary Injunction on Mexican Gray Wolf Releases

United States Fish and Wildlife Service Ordered to Stop All Future Releases

 

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Today, a federal district judge granted New Mexico a preliminary injunction in the state’s case against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, forcing the agency to forgo critically needed releases of Mexican gray wolves.

 

“The court’s actions today take the Mexican gray wolf one step closer to extinction in the wild,” said Eva Sargent, senior Southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has the ultimate authority to determine how to recover our endangered species. The states are playing “puppy politics” and working to tie the hands of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in their duty to recover the lobo.”

 

Background

The Mexican gray wolf, or lobo, is the most endangered gray wolf in the world. With only 97 wolves in the wild in the United States at the last official count and fewer than 25 in Mexico, today the wolf population faces a drop in numbers and a genetic diversity crisis. The 2015 count dropped considerably from the all-time high of 110 wolves in 2014. Releases of captive wolves are critically needed to increase the genetic diversity in the wild lobo population. Limited genetic diversity in the wild is leading to smaller litters and lower pup survival – a recipe for extinction.

 

Scientists, wolf breeding facilities and other conservationists urge the releases of many more wolves into the wild in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest to enhance genetic diversity.  But in the face of opposition from the livestock industry and the states of Arizona and New Mexico, until this spring, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service) had only released four captive-born wolves during the entire Obama administration; three died and one was trapped and returned to captivity.

 

On February 17, 2015, under authority of the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA) and a new management rule promulgated on January 16, 2015, the Gila National Forest was opened up to releases of captive-born wolves. In an effort to cooperate with the State of New Mexico, the Service applied for state permits to release captive Mexican gray wolves. In June 2015, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish refused to grant the Service a permit to release Mexican gray wolf pups and adults into the wild. The Service appealed the State’s decision to the New Mexico Fish and Game Commission, and the public overwhelmingly commented and testified in support of the Service at a public hearing last August. However, the commission refused to reverse the department’s decision.

 

The ESA requires the Service to “cooperate to the maximum extent practicable with the states” as it pursues species recovery programs. However, the law gives the Service the ability to release endangered species without state permits if states do not allow it to carry out its lawful responsibilities. So, in April, the Service released two cross-fostered wolf pups into the wild in New Mexico.

 

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