We have all long advocated for the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to release many new wolves to the wild to boost the wild population’s numbers and genetics.
Finally, after four years with no new releases of Mexican wolves into the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (BRWRA), a release of a few new wolves is being proposed, through two documents: a Mexican Wolf Blue Range Reintroduction Project Replacement Release Outline for Arizona 2013 (Release Proposal), and a Mexican Wolf Blue Range Reintroduction Project Initial Wolf Release Arizona Pack Management Plan 2012-2013 (Pack Management Plan).
New releases are a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, there are some problems with the proposal and the management plan for the releases.
The Pack Management Plan that accompanies the Release Proposal states that any wolf implicated in “nuisance” behavior, including livestock conflicts, three or more times in one year will be killed or placed in permanent captivity. This is a return to Standard Operating Procedure 13, which was rescinded in 2009. Prior to 2009, the USFWS killed or removed 92 wolves from the wild population because of nuisance behavior or conflicts with livestock.
The release proposal itself is woefully inadequate to foster the needed population growth or increased genetic health.
And because the agency is using presence of livestock as a justification not to release wolves into a wider range of the available area in Arizona, and because the USFWS has failed to change the rule to allow direct releases into New Mexico, almost every release alternative involves releasing wolves into or near the territory of an existing wild pack. This is less than ideal and can be avoided by changing the rule and using proactive measures with livestock.
More details on these issues is below and in the sample comments.
Here are points to include:
1. While proposing to release a few new wolves into the wild after four years of no releases is a step in the right direction, the Mexican Wolf Blue Range Reintroduction Project Replacement Release Outline for Arizona 2013 is inadequate.
2. The resumption of killing and removing endangered Mexican wolves over livestock conflicts outlined in the Pack Management Plan is unacceptable. Policies like those described in the plan are one of the reasons the Mexican wolf population numbers and genetic health are still of such great concern.
3. The USFWS needs to do a better job of including the public in decisions like these; these documents were only released to a few people relative to the many who have expressed an interest in new releases over the past year. It is inappropriate to hand off the USFWS’s outreach responsibilities to the AZ Game and Fish Department and to fail to engage the public on these issues.
4. If the Mexican gray wolf is going to succeed, several critical steps must be implemented immediately:
- Develop, adopt, and implement an aggressive genetic rescue/re-rescue plan;
- Revise the Endangered Species Act Section 10(j) rule to authorize direct releases of captive-raised Mexican wolves to any geographic location within the designated BRWRA (currently new wolves can only be released into Arizona, which excludes excellent habitat in New Mexico);
- Restore decision authority to the USFWS for wolf release decisions (this release proposal came from the AZ Game and Fish Department, and is clearly written to accord with a directive from the Arizona Game and Fish Commission to accept releases only to replace wolves illegally killed in Arizona the previous year);
- Eliminate “presence of livestock” as a rationale for excluding areas from consideration for wolf releases (There are plenty of places to release wolves in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, but many appear to be excluded simply because of active livestock grazing operations in the project area; proactive measures have been successfully used to avoid depredations and the recovery of Mexican gray wolves is the appropriate priority); and
- Resume and expedite recovery planning for the Mexican gray wolf (The recovery planning process for the Mexican wolf is currently stalled and significantly behind schedule. At this point, the release of a draft Recovery Plan is not expected until sometime in 2014. Mexican wolves need and deserve better performance by the USFWS).
Please add anything else you would like, and include your name and address with your comments.
Thank you for acting on behalf of these critically endangered wolves!
The proposal intends only to replace the wolves killed illegally in Arizona last year and ignores wolves killed in New Mexico or lost to other causes. Even if it replaced all the wolves that died in the past year, it would be inadequate, given that the last official count found only 58 wolves in the wild. The wild population will not be increased to viable numbers by only releasing wolves for those that are killed in Arizona illegally the year before. Many more releases are needed.
While we are pleased that the release proposal identifies and addresses the critical need for “genetic rescue” of the wild population of Mexican wolves, the release of a few wolves falls far too short of accomplishing meaningful genetic rescue. From 2005-2008 only five new wolves were released and no new wolves have been released since November 2008. Now both populations are at risk genetically because of the low growth rate of the wild population, which is largely due to aggressive management removals of wolves and the failure to release sufficient numbers of wolves from the captive population.
The genetic situation is part of the justification for the proposal to capture the aging Rim Pack alpha female, return her to captivity, and surgically remove her remaining viable eggs for future artificial reproduction. The capture of one pure McBride lineage wolf and the release of one or two cross-lineage wolves, which constitutes the full extent of this current release proposal, fall far short of a comprehensive science-based genetic “rescue” or “re-rescue” plan and will do little to grow the wild population at the necessary rate.
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