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Guest Column: Proposed wolf recovery plan would speed extinction

The Albuquerque Journal - July 9, 2017 - Your letters are needed!

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By Michael J Robinson

The fledgling Mexican gray wolf population in New Mexico and Arizona is already in serious trouble, but if the Trump administration’s new recovery plan for these wolves is adopted, they’ll have at least one paw in the grave.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on (June 29) issued its draft Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, the long-awaited roadmap for pulling this unique gray wolf subspecies back from the brink and helping it thrive.

But alarmingly, the plan would strip wolves of federal protection well before their survival and recovery is secure, turning over management to state game departments that are hostile to their very existence.

We know what happens when wolves in such states lose protections. Since Congress removed federal protection from wolves in Idaho and Montana in 2011, more than 3,000 have been killed – and their numbers are dropping.

The Mexican wolf’s status is far direr, with just 113 individuals living in the United States and about 35 wolves in Mexico.

As seen in government responses to Freedom of Information Act requests from the Center for Biological Diversity, the draft plan was substantially influenced by the anti-wolf game departments of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado under marching orders from their governors to sharply limit the distribution and number of wolves.

The recovery plan should have been crafted by a team of qualified scientific experts in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for recovering endangered wildlife. Unfortunately, this plan didn’t get that treatment.

Instead the Trump administration installed one of the political hatchetmen for the anti-wolf cause – Utah Division of Wildlife Resources director Greg Sheehan – as acting service director. Now he can approve and finalize this draft, which his own former agency helped formulate, despite having no formal scientific training.

The proposed recovery roadmap would strip Mexican gray wolves of protection after their population reaches 320 animals in southern New Mexico and Arizona and 170 in Mexico, with no connection between them.

That proposal comes after a recovery team of some of the world’s top wolf scientists, convened by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2012, determined that securing a future for Mexican wolves would require three interconnected populations of at least 750 wolves. Those would include two new populations centered on the Grand Canyon and adjoining areas in southern Utah, and the southern Rocky Mountains of New Mexico and Colorado. That plan was never finalized, primarily because Utah officials objected.

But that connectivity is vital, as is the larger number of wolves that should exist before removal of protections, because the Mexican wolf went through a genetic bottleneck last century after decades of trapping and poisoning by the service on behalf of the livestock industry. Just seven wolves survived to pass on the subspecies’ genetic legacy through captive breeding.

Some of their descendants were reintroduced in the United States beginning in 1998 and Mexico in 2011. But U.S. mismanagement – trapping and shooting wolves to curry favor with livestock owners, releasing too few wolves from captivity – coupled with a weak genetic base has resulted in wolves that are as genetically close to each other as siblings.

More wolves from different populations mating with each other is the only way to stave off extinction.

The connected areas identified by the scientists five years ago – including New Mexico’s Gila National Forest – would let wolves migrate back and forth, mixing and raising pups to improve the gene pool.

Mexican gray wolves are beautiful, intelligent, social mammals whose fate depends on ecosystem balance. They have been the victims of political mismanagement for far too long. This highly politicized draft plan will not lead to recovery and should be replaced by a plan based on science.

The Fish and Wildlife Service will hold a public meeting from 2 to 5 p.m. July 22 in Albuquerque to discuss the draft Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan. It is at the Crowne Plaza, 1901 University Boulevard NE.

This article was published by the Albuquerque Journal

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Show your support for Mexican wolves with a Letter to the Editor today!

The letters to the editor page is one of the most widely read, influential parts of the newspaper. One letter from you can reach thousands of people and will also likely be read by decision-makers.  Tips for writing your letter are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience.  Don’t try to include all the talking points in your letter.


Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points

• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required, by law, to incorporate the best available science into its Mexican gray wolf recovery plan. Unfortunately, they have scrapped this duty in order to attain the best political deal they could find. They have chosen to make hostile state agencies happy rather than uphold their duty to consider the best available science. The previous recovery planning science team clearly identified what these wolves need, yet those findings are being ignored.

• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to hand the management of the Mexican gray wolf recovery program to the states who have done everything in their power to sabotage the species’ recovery. Arizona game and fish ran the program for six years previously, and in that time they managed to reduce the number of wolves in the wild. The serious genetic problems the wild population is in is a direct result of the mismanagement by Arizona. If this plan is not dramatically changed, it will very likely drive the lobo to extinction.

• The Mexican gray wolf draft recovery plan includes reckless delisting criteria for the critically endangered wolf. The plan allows for delisting the wolf after twenty-two wolves released from captivity reach reproductive age. But just reaching reproductive age does not ensure their genes will be contributed to the wild population. We have seen that poaching is a major threat to individual wild wolves and if these wolves are killed before they breed, the species will still be removed from the endangered species list.

• Mexican gray wolves will need connectivity between wild populations in order to recover. Connectivity would be easy were they allowed to establish in the two additional suitable habitats in the U.S., the Grand Canyon area and the Southern Rockies. Instead, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to restrict the wolves to south of Interstate 40 and to establish a second population in Mexico. There is a barrier along large sections of the international border, talk of extending that barrier to an impenetrable wall, and the last wolf who crossed that border was removed from the wild.

• The federal agency charged with recovery of the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf has decided to put the onus of recovery on Mexico, despite the fact that this could wipe the species out. Mexico does not have nearly as much public land for the wolf, they have very little enforcement to deal with poaching, and as species shift north in response to climate change Mexican habitat will become even less suitable for wolves.


Make sure you:

• Thank the paper for publishing the article

• Submit your letter as soon as possible. The chance of your letter being published declines after a day or two since the article was published

• Do not repeat any negative messages from the article, such as “so and so said that wolves kill too many cows, but…”  Remember that those reading your letter will not be looking at the article it responds to, so this is an opportunity to get out positive messages about wolf recovery rather than to argue with the original article

• Keep your letter brief, under 350 words

• Include something about who you are and why you care: E.g. “I am a mother, outdoors person, teacher, business owner, scientific, religious, etc.”

• Provide your name, address, phone number, and address.  The paper won’t publish these, but they want to know you are who you say you are.

Submit your letter to the editor of the Albuquerque Journal


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DO EVEN MORE FOR LOBOS!

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Submit comments to the Fish and Wildlife Service before August 29

To review and comment on the draft revised recovery plan and related documents, visit www.regulations.gov and enter the docket number FWS–R2–ES–2017–0036 in the search bar.



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If you live in Arizona or New Mexico, please attend one of the four public meetings that the Fish and Wildlife Service is holding

- July 18, 6-9 p.m. Northern Arizona University, Prochnow Auditorium, South Knowles Drive, Flagstaff, AZ
- July 19, 6-9 p.m. Hon-Dah Resort, Casino Banquet Hall, 777 AZ–260, Pinetop, AZ
- July 20, 6-9 p.m. Ralph Edwards Auditorium, Civic Center, 400 West Fourth, Truth or Consequences, NM
- July 22, 2-5 p.m. Crowne Plaza Albuquerque, 1901 University Boulevard NE,
Albuquerque, NM

Thank you for taking action for the Lobos!