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NEWS RELEASE: Lawsuit Fights 38 Years of Delay in Recovering Southwest’s Mexican Gray Wolves

November 12, 2014 Write a letter to the editor for Lobo recovery today!

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Media Contacts:

Maggie Caldwell, Earthjustice, 415-217-2084, mcaldwell@earthjustice.org
Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity, (575) 313-7017
Maggie Howell, Wolf Conservation Center, 914-763-2373, maggie@nywolf.org
Steve Parker, Endangered Wolf Center, 636-938-5900, sparker@endangeredwolfcenter.org
Courtney Sexton, Defenders of Wildlife, 202-772-0253, csexton@defenders.org

Lawsuit Fights 38 Years of Delay in Recovering Southwest’s Mexican Gray Wolves

TUCSON, Ariz.— A coalition of wolf conservation groups, environmental organizations and a retired federal wolf biologist sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for repeated failures over the last 38 years to develop a valid recovery plan for the imperiled Mexican gray wolf, one of the most endangered mammals in North America. With only 83 individuals and five breeding pairs in the wild at last report, Mexican gray wolves remain at serious risk of extinction. The recovery plan, a blueprint for rebuilding an endangered species’ population to sustainable levels, is necessary to ensure the lobos’ survival and is legally required under the Endangered Species Act.

“The opportunity to recover the Mexican gray wolf is slipping away due to genetic problems and inadequate management policies, but the government still hasn’t created the basic recovery blueprint that the law requires,” said Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso, who is representing the groups. “We are asking a judge to order federal officials to develop a scientifically-grounded recovery plan before it is too late.”

Earthjustice is representing Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, retired Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator David R. Parsons, the Endangered Wolf Center and the Wolf Conservation Center.

“For three decades now, Fish and  Wildlife officials have been dragging their feet on completing a recovery plan simply to appease state leaders and special interest groups opposed to sharing the landscape with wolves,” said Michael Robinson, a wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s shameful that the very people charged with recovering our wildlife have turned their backs on these beautiful creatures, leaving them to battle inbreeding and a host of other threats pushing them to the brink of extinction.”

The Service developed a document it labeled a “Recovery Plan” in 1982, but the agency admits the document was incomplete, intended for only short-term application, and “did not contain objective and measurable recovery criteria for delisting as required by [the Endangered Species Act].” Most importantly, the 32-year-old document did not provide the necessary science-based roadmap to move the Mexican gray wolf toward recovery. Without a recovery plan in place, the Service’s Mexican gray wolf conservation efforts have fallen short of even meeting the agency’s stopgap goals. The Service in 2010 admitted that the wild Mexican gray wolf population “is not thriving” and remains “at risk of failure.”

“In the Spring of 2012, the Service cancelled the next meeting of the recovery team,” said Eva Sargent, Southwest Program Director for Defenders of Wildlife and a member of the team, “and we haven’t heard a word since.  The majority of Arizonans and New Mexicans support recovery of the lobo, and they deserve more than decades of stalling on the most basic task – a scientific blueprint that moves the wolves from endangered to secure.”

Service-appointed recovery scientists drafted a plan in 2012 that called for establishing three interconnected Mexican gray wolf populations totaling at least 750 animals as criteria for delisting, but the plan has never been finalized. The abandonment of the 2012 recovery planning process leaves Mexican wolf recovery guided by the legally and scientifically deficient 1982 plan, which did not even set a population recovery goal.

A new analysis of the Service’s failed efforts to develop a recovery plan released today by the Center for Biological Diversity reveals an agency that over three decades convened three different teams of expert scientists to prepare the much-needed plan only, in each case, to pull the plug once the plans neared completion.

As detailed in the report, “Deadly Wait: How the Government’s 30-year Delay in Producing a Recovery Plan is Hurting Recovery of Mexican Gray Wolves,” documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act demonstrate the most recent effort to develop a recovery plan was quashed by the Service in 2012 at the behest of the states of Arizona, Colorado and Utah, which did not want to see Mexican wolves recovered within their borders.

“The Endangered Species Act is unequivocal in its requirement of a recovery plan based solely on the best available science regardless of politics and the level of controversy. That certain interests invited to the recovery planning table don’t respect federal law or reject the validity of the best science is no excuse for shutting down the recovery planning process and further endangering the extinction of the Mexican gray wolf,” said David Parsons, former Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed today include two environmental education organizations that operate captive-breeding facilities providing Mexican gray wolves for release into the wild. Despite their efforts, Mexican gray wolf survival continues to be threatened by the lack of a recovery plan to ensure that wolf releases are sufficient to establish a viable population.

“Recovery cannot take place in captivity alone,” said Virginia Busch, Executive Director of the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, Mo. “Only by developing and implementing a comprehensive and legally compliant recovery plan reflecting the best available scientific information can Fish and Wildlife Service secure the future of the Mexican wolf, and establish management sufficient to restore this irreplaceable part of our wild natural heritage to the American landscape.”

Maggie Howell, Executive Director of the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, New York, added:  “The captive-breeding program that we operate aims to release wolves into their ancestral homes in the wild, but the success of our efforts requires a recovery plan that will ensure the survival of these iconic and imperiled wolves.”

BACKGROUND:
The Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) — the “lobo” of Southwestern lore — is the most genetically distinct lineage of wolves in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the most endangered mammals in North America. By the mid-1980s, hunting, trapping, and poisoning caused the extinction of lobos in the wild, with only a handful remaining in captivity. In 1998 the wolves were reintroduced into the wild as part of a federal reintroduction program under the Endangered Species Act. Today in the U.S., there is a single wild population comprising only 83 individuals, all descendants of just seven wild founders of a captive breeding program. These wolves are threatened by illegal killings, legal removals due to conflicts with livestock, and a lack of genetic diversity.

The Service has never written or implemented a legally sufficient Mexican gray wolf recovery plan. The Service’s most recent recovery team has done extensive, rigorous work to determine what needs to be done to save the Mexican gray wolf. Recovery team scientists agree that, in order to survive, lobos require the establishment of at least three linked populations. The habitats capable of supporting the two additional populations are in the Grand Canyon ecoregion and in northern New Mexico/southern Colorado.

In July 2014, the Fish and Wildlife Service published a proposed revision of the rules governing management of Mexican gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act. The proposal includes provisions that would allow for increased take — or killing — of the critically endangered animals, and proposes to recapture wolves dispersing north of Interstate 40, which would prohibit the establishment of additional populations called for by recovery planners. The proposal is not based on a legitimate recovery plan.

ONLINE VERSION:
http://earthjustice.org/news/press/2014/lawsuit-fights-38-years-of-delay-in-recovering-southwest-s-mexican-gray-wolves

LEGAL DOCUMENT: http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/files/2014-11-11_FINAL_MexicanWolf_Complaint_final.pdf

Center for Biological Diversity Report


Click to hear from environmental attorneys on why they sue.

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Earthjustice, the nation’s premier nonprofit environmental law organization, wields the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. Because the earth needs a good lawyer.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org and follow us on Twitter@defendersnews.

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Your help is needed to keep Mexican wolf recovery in the news!

Letters to the editor are powerful tools read by the public and policy makers.  

Let’s rally behind the message that a recovery plan is the road to survival!

Please submit a letter and highlight the importance of wolves to ecosystems, how wolves are imperiled due to lack of genetic diversity, and that innovative “coexistence” programs are underway to prevent conflict. (See talking points below for more ideas.)

Get started right away.  Make a difference for wolves; be a voice for those who can’t speak. Everything you need follows—tips for writing, where to send, etc.

Be sure to use your own words and write from your heart!   Tell your own story and don’t delay. Your chances of getting published increase if you respond within a day or two of the article’s publication.  

Write one letter—send it to all NEWSPAPERS!

Write one letter, and send a slightly revised edition to each paper.  (Just change the opening line… E.g. “Thanks to the Daily Star for your article”, or “Thanks to the Arizona Republic for your article…”)  

Articles:

Arizona Daily Star: Conservation groups sue federal agency over wolf plan

Arizona Republic: Groups sue feds to get Mexican gray-wolf recovery plan

Arizona Daily Sun: Groups seek recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves

Albuquerque Journal: Groups seek recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves

Santa Fe New Mexican: Proposed rule changes could hamper efforts of groups working on wolf recovery (mentions lawsuit as well as NM Game Commission proposal)

Silver City Sun News: Environmental groups file lawsuit on Mexican gray wolf recovery

Las Cruces Sun-News: Groups seek recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves

Submit your letters at these links:


The Arizona Daily Star: Respond: Write a Letter to the Editor

The Arizona Republic: Send a Letter to the Editor

The Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff):  AZ Daily Sun online submission

Albuquerque Journal: Letter to the Editor online submission

Santa Fe New Mexican: Send a Letter to the Editor

Silver City Sun News: Email your letter

The Las Cruces Sun-News: Email your letter

Sample Talking Points
Include some of these points but use your own words.  See tips below for crafting a good letter.

About the importance of Mexican gray wolves:
  • Recent polls confirm that the majority of voters in both Arizona and New Mexico strongly support wolf recovery.
  • Lobos are in dire straits! Once an icon of the American southwest, there are only 83 left in the wild in the United States.
  • Wolves are important carnivores that contribute to the environmental health of the areas they inhabit. Wolves help keep nature in balance for all of us.
  • We have a moral responsibility to do all we can to restore these endangered animals to their essential natural role.
  • There are many resources and tools available to help livestock owners coexist responsibly with wolves and other wildlife.
  • Mexican wolves are intelligent, family oriented animals who should be protected and recovered from the brink of extinction.

About the litigation for a new Mexican wolf recovery plan:

  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s most recent recovery team has done extensive, rigorous work to determine what needs to be done to save the Mexican gray wolf, but the Service has still never written or implemented a legally sufficient Mexican gray wolf recovery plan.
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service is mandated to put science and recovery ahead of special interest politics.
  • The lobos were listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1976, almost 40 years ago. And even though the ESA legally requires the Service to develop recovery plans for such critically threatened wildlife, the Service still hasn’t done so for Mexican gray wolves. Isn’t it about time?
  • Not only is a recovery plan legally required, but it would bring science to the forefront and get the wolves out of danger faster – which is the point of the reintroduction program.
  • A recovery plan provides a necessary, science-based road map for wildlife managers to follow. Only with a plan can they guide Mexican gray wolves from being critically endangered to being recovered.
  • Recovery team scientists agree that, in order to survive, lobos require the establishment of at least three linked populations. The habitats capable of supporting the two additional populations are in the Grand Canyon ecoregion and in northern New Mexico/southern Colorado. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is ignoring the scientists’ recommendations by proposing a rule change that will not allow Mexican wolves into these key habitats.
  • The current recovery team has not met since 2011. In the meantime, lobos have continued to struggle to survive in the wild. How can a science-based plan be produced or implemented when the team isn’t meeting and draft recommendations are being suppressed?

Letter Writing Tips

  • Start by thanking the paper for the article.
  • Keep it short and sweet—150 words or less. Choose one or two points and make those well.  Don’t try to cover everything.
  • Provide your name, address and phone number; this info will not be published, but they are required for the paper to publish your letter.
  • Make one or two clear points vs. attempting to cover several--it’s hard to make several points with this short word length; letters get confusing and watered down.
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