Defenders of Wildlife Calls for Federal Program to Restore Gray Wolves to Southern Rockies

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(11/16/2000) - Denver, Colorado – Saying "it’s time to put the heart back in the Southern Rockies ecosystem," Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen today released that organization’s petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to restore gray wolves to the Southern Rocky Mountains. Schlickeisen made the announcement during the organization’s Carnivores 2000 Conference in Denver, Colorado.

"Gray wolves have an important role to play in the biological health and wholeness of the Southern Rockies, and it’s time for the federal government to get serious about restoring the species here," said Schlickeisen. "Wolves were once at the heart of a rich Rockies ecosystem, and it’s time to put that heart back."

The petition filed by Defenders of Wildlife urges FWS to establish a Distinct Population Segment (DPS) for gray wolves in the Southern Rocky Mountains under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This designation would require FWS to develop and implement a plan for restoration and conservation of wolves in this area, which includes Colorado and Utah, as well as portions of Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico.

The gray wolf is currently listed as "endangered" in all lower 48 states except Minnesota, where it is listed as "threatened." The species has been successfully reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park and re-established in the Northern Rockies. The Mexican wolf has been reintroduced in the area of the U.S.-Mexico border. Still, the gray wolf has been returned to less than 4 percent of its historical range in the lower 48 states.

The petition by Defenders of Wildlife notes that the ESA requires the federal government to work for the recovery of distinct population segments of an endangered species throughout its historical range, where appropriate habitat remains. Habitat surveys have confirmed that the Southern Rockies is an ideal place for wolves, with large numbers and variety of wild prey species and substantial expanses of remote public land.

The current proposal by the FWS, however, would combine the Southern and Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest into one wolf population segment without expanding the numerical recovery goals beyond those in the northern region alone. Without a separate DPS designation for the Southern Rockies, it is highly unlikely that wolves could ever re-establish there, in part because of the distances involved and because Colorado still offers a bounty for wolves.

"Wolves belong in the Southern Rockies. Defenders of Wildlife has given evidence that gray wolves can thrive in the region, and that a majority of people in the Southern Rockies favor a well-managed program to reintroduce wolves," said Bob Ferris, vice president of species conservation for Defenders of Wildlife. "Wherever they have returned, wolves in the U.S. have demonstrated tremendous biological and even economic value. We can return them to the Southern Rockies in a way that makes sense for the wolves, for the ecosystem, and for all of the people involved. But none of this will happen without the federal government stepping up to its leading role."

The petition filed by Defenders of Wildlife documents the habitat available for wolves in the Southern Rockies and the requirements of the ESA, recommending: "With these conditions in mind we feel that the only solution for recovery of a viable long-term population of gray wolves is through continued federal oversight and the establishment of a Southern Rocky Mountain DPS. The FWS should develop a comprehensive recovery plan for this region and follow it up with whatever steps are deemed necessary to encourage the restoration of this species. Defenders is willing to continue to support the FWS in this process and will continue our long tradition of wolf education and advocacy as well as payment of livestock depredation claims arising from wolves."

Defenders of Wildlife is a leading nonprofit conservation organization recognized as one of the nation’s most progressive advocates for wildlife and its habitat, and has led efforts for wolf restoration in the lower 48 states for more than 30 years. With more than 430,000 members and supporters, Defenders of Wildlife is an effective leader on endangered species issues.

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270

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