Final EIS Issued Today: Administration Urged To Move Quickly To Restore Mexican Wolves To The Southwest In '97

(12/19/1996) - Phoenix, AZ and Washington, DC - Defenders of Wildlife hailed today's long-awaited release of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) final environmental impact statement recommending restoration of the Mexican wolf to part of its former range in Arizona and New Mexico.

Defenders, a nonprofit conservation group that has worked intensively on Yellowstone and other wolf restoration efforts for decades, stressed the need for quick Clinton Administration approval of the FWS recommendation because the Mexican wolf is already extinct in the wild and there are only 149 individuals alive in captive breeding facilities today.

Defenders' President Rodger Schlickeisen said, "Despite more than a decade of stalling, the FWS has made the right recommendation, and we now have an historic choice that can give the world's rarest wolf a new chance for survival. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt proved himself a good friend of wolf recovery two years ago when he approved reintroduction of the gray wolf to the Northern Rockies. Now he can do the same for El Lobo." Schlickeisen continued, "However, he should move quickly to implement restoration plans in 1997 because captive breeding facilities are approaching maximum capacity. Also, the longer wolves are held in captivity, the less their chances will be for success in the wild. The clock is ticking."

Although these wolves have not existed in the wild for years, Schlickeisen noted that the forced delay for the Mexican wolf resulted from political factors and not from a lack of public support: "Just as with the successful Yellowstone wolf restoration, public support for Mexican wolf recovery is overwhelming." The final release of the environmental impact statement (EIS) on Mexican wolf restoration was released at a FWS press conference in Phoenix today. On October 3, Defenders of Wildlife and other regional conservation groups filed a legal notice of an intent to sue the FWS after sixty days had elapsed unless the EIS was released. On December 4, the FWS published a notice of its intent to announce its wolf reintroduction recommendations in the EIS.

The preferred alternative in the final EIS calls for reintroduction of 3 to 5 family groups of wolves to the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in Arizona near the New Mexico border. Defenders' President noted that, "I toured this area a few years back, and it is a fantastic location. But the Fish and Wildlife Service should expand recovery to include the White Sands area in New Mexico and sites along the Texas-Mexico border as well." Schlickeisen noted that the White Sands area is already in the wolf recovery plan for later consideration. At the press conference Defenders presented the FWS with several thousand petitions to amend the recovery plan to also include the Big Bend area of Texas or the Sierra del Carmen of Mexico. This EIS followed a public comment period during which the FWS heard from more than 18,000 individuals, organizations and government agencies. Those comments and opinion polls conducted throughout the Southwest consistently demonstrated that the public supports reintroduction by nearly a 2:1 margin.

Mexican wolf restoration has been under active consideration since 1982, when the FWS finalized the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, which was jointly signed by the U.S. and Mexico. According to Craig Miller, Defenders' Southwest Representative, "The Fish and Wildlife Service has gone the extra mile to address the concerns of private landowners and the livestock industry. Now it's time to move forward and get the wolves on the ground."

According to the draft EIS, the economic impacts of wolf restoration will be largely favorable and recent experience in the Yellowstone region bear this out. In addition, the final EIS does not contain permanent land-use restrictions on behalf of the wolf. "The only legitimate concern about Mexican wolf restoration is that wolves may very occasionally kill livestock," according to Miller. "Defenders of Wildlife has established a $100,000 fund to pay ranchers for all verified livestock losses to wolves; those of us who support wolf restoration are addressing this concern directly by assuming financial responsibility for the wolves' return."

There is no public comment period on the final EIS. Decision- makers are required, however, to wait at least 30 days before selecting how to proceed. If Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt promptly issues a final decision at the end of January, wolves could be released as soon as fall 1997. The FWS predicts that Mexican wolves could reach recovery goals as early as 2004.

Miller says, "The resistance to wolves specifically and to endangered species generally has been fueled by the so-called wise-use groups. These groups claim wolf reintroduction will cost jobs and result in land-use restrictions, but there are no facts to support these scare claims. Their real agenda is the continued excessive domination of public land management by commodity interests."



Joan Moody, 202-682-9400 x220 (Media)
Bob Ferris, 202-682-9400 x229 (Conservation)
Craig Miller, 520-578-9334 (S.West)