Fish and Wildlife Service’s New Rule Hurts Recovery for Mexican Gray Wolves

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 24, 2014

Contact: Courtney Sexton, 202.772.0253, csexton@defenders.org

Fish and Wildlife Service’s New Rule Hurts Recovery for Endangered Mexican Gray Wolves

TUCSON— Today, the Fish and Wildlife Service published the final environmental impact statement for a new rule that will govern management of Mexican gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act. Parts of the new rule would keep the wolves out of important habitats, cap the population at an artificially low level, and allow more killing of the critically endangered animals. There are currently only about 83 Mexican gray wolves in the wild in the southwest United States, and this rule will continue to hamper recovery of this most endangered wolf.

The following is a statement from Eva Sargent, Director of Southwest Programs, Defenders of Wildlife:

“The Service’s latest decision regarding the Mexican gray wolf takes one step forward and two steps back and will ultimately hinder the recovery of the imperiled lobos. The new management rule ignores the best peer-reviewed science – the recommendations of the Service’s own recovery team – and rewards anti-wolf prejudices and politics.

“While it allows wolf releases and dispersal over a broader area, it promises to keep Mexican gray wolves out of habitats they need to recover. It also allows increased killing of these iconic and endangered lobos, and it caps the population at an unjustifiably low level. When the best science tells you that Mexican gray wolves need two new populations, and that they can’t recover unless their killing is reduced, it doesn’t make sense to do the opposite. And the public agrees that the lobos deserve better.

“The Service knows that Mexican gray wolves need an updated science-based recovery plan, more breeding pairs released and at least two additional core populations established in suitable habitat. It is tragic that the Service has chosen to ignore the most basic science on Mexican gray wolf recovery.”

Background:

Nearly eradicated by the 1970s, in 1998 the lobos were reintroduced into the wild as part of a federal reintroduction program under the ESA. Today there is a single wild population in the US comprising only 83 individuals, and five individuals in Mexico. All of the Mexican gray wolves alive today are descendants of just seven wild founders of a captive breeding program. These wolves are threatened by illegal killings, removals due to conflicts with livestock, and a lack of genetic diversity.

In July 2014 the Fish and Wildlife Service published a revised draft of the rule governing management of Mexican gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act that included provisions that, while giving the wolves more room to roam, would keep them out of priority habitats and  would allow for increased take—or killing—of the critically endangered animals. After the publication of the public draft, the Service made several substantial changes, including changing the area in which wolves would be allowed and establishing a cap of 300-325 wolves within the recovery area.

The Service has not written or implemented an adequate Mexican gray wolf recovery plan in the 38 years since the Mexican gray wolf was listed in 1976, producing only an inadequate document styled as a “recovery plan” in 1982.  Despite three subsequent attempts to produce a science-based recovery plan, none exists. The current recovery team has done extensive, rigorous work to determine what needs to be done to save the Mexican gray wolf, but unfortunately the recovery team has not been convened by the FWS to meet since 2011. Scientists, including those from the Service’s recovery team, agree that in order to survive lobos require the establishment of at least three populations linked by dispersal among the populations. The habitats capable of supporting the two additional populations are in the Grand Canyon ecoregion and in northern New Mexico/southern Colorado. 

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