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Coconino Voices: State management of Mexican gray wolves not based on science

Arizona Daily Sun, Kim Crumbo and Sandy Bahr (Special to the Daily Sun) - August 19, 2017

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The recent opinion piece from Arizona Game and Fish Commission (AZGFD) Chairman Jim Ammon, “Progress Seen in Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Efforts,” should be read with much skepticism, especially his assurances that the recently released Mexican wolf draft recovery plan is based on the “best available science.”

Twice in the past decade (2003 and 2010), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has convened official recovery teams to develop an up-to-date (both legally and scientifically) Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan. Science advisors for those recovery teams, composed almost entirely (17 out of 18) of scientists with either wolf biology or conservation expertise, concluded that recovery would require three interconnected populations of Mexican wolves—also known as the lobo— in the United States, each with at least 250 wolves.

The recently released Draft Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan calls for only half that total with only one population of about 320 wolves in the U.S. and an isolated population of 170 in Mexico.

As the USFWS admits, the two other U.S. recovery areas (southern Colorado/northern New Mexico, and the Grand Canyon ecoregion) deemed essential for Mexican wolf recovery were discarded for “geopolitical reasons” and not the best available science. So, the Service scrapped them due to politics.

Another departure from the previous science-based recommendations is the wishful emphasis on the wolf packs in Mexico. While the potential role of Mexico in lobo recovery may be useful, the three U.S. population areas, not those in Mexico, have consistently emerged as essential for Mexican wolf survival.

Nevertheless, in a November 2015 letter from the Governors of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah to the USFWS, the states asserted “…recovery of the Mexican wolf cannot and will not be achieved if the Service does not recognize that the majority of Mexican wolf recovery must occur in Mexico…[Mexico] must be home to the lion’s share of on-the-ground Mexican wolf recovery.” This ultimatum was based, again, on political considerations and not the science.

Arizona has a checkered past regarding wolf “management.” For example, when Arizona Game and Fish assumed leadership of the wolf reintroduction program from 2003 through 2009, the wild population dropped from 55 to 42. Only when the federal USFWS resumed control of the program in 2009, as required by the Endangered Species Act, did the wolf population rise to 113 by early 2017.

The draft plan would allow Mexican wolves to lose protection under the Endangered Species Act with fewer than half the number that scientists say are needed for recovery. Should that happen, the states would assume full management responsibility for the lobo’s survival. That prospect, based on the states’ record of opposing wolf recovery, including the reintroduction of wolves, is a recipe for extinction, not recovery.

Given the science supporting wolf recovery in three U.S. populations, not to mention the improper — if not illegal — political interference in what should be a scientific analysis of what is needed for the Mexican wolf’s survival, a credible scientific recovery plan is needed, not this recovery sham.

Kim Crumbo of Flagstaff is the Western Conservation Director of Wildlands Network. Reach him at crumbo@wildlandsnetwork.org. Sandy Bahr is Director, Sierra Club-Grand Canyon Chapter. Reach her at sandy.bahr@sierraclub.org/arizona.

This article was published in the Arizona Daily Sun

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Draft Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, First Revision

Additional Documentation Referenced in Draft Plan:




5 peer reviews received on the above documents (Peer reviews are anonymous at this time but FWS will provide peer reviewers names and affiliations when the recovery plan and biological report have been finalized.)