By David Parsons / Former Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Retired
(Regarding the) editorial “Wolf recovery plan based on reason, compromise,” Dec. 28.
Contrary to the Journal editors’ claim that the revised Mexican wolf recovery plan reflects compromise and science, it reflects special interest politics and flawed science.
Perhaps the editors were unaware of a draft plan developed in 2012 by independent scientists appointed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the previous multi-stakeholder recovery team, which presented science-based recovery criteria that the states rejected. No effort to reach a compromise was offered or attempted.
Instead, the FWS shelved that plan, shut down the work of that team and started over. This new plan was developed in secret closed meetings with only representatives of the four Southwestern state game departments invited to participate. The Endangered Species Act requires decisions to be based on the best available science. The new team generated its own non-peer-reviewed science to support much lower recovery criteria. The FWS published over 250 pages of supporting “scientific” justification, used a sophisticated model to predict extinction probabilities, then tossed the science aside and asked the states how many wolves they would tolerate. The model output was capped at the states’ arbitrary upper “social tolerance” limit of 320 wolves in the U.S. Southwest, all south of Interstate 40, an admitted “geo-political” boundary.
To prevent extinction of Mexican wolves, the model forced all additional recovery needs to Mexico, where the FWS has no jurisdiction. The approved plan will guarantee that no more than a running average of 320 Mexican wolves will ever be allowed to exist in the entire U.S. Southwest.
The independent scientists recommend a total of 750 wolves in three separate populations connected by dispersal corridors with suitable habitats. The scientists recommended expansion of the current population in the Gila region, and two additional populations in the Grand Canyon region of northern Arizona and southern Utah, and the southern Rocky Mountains region of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. The two additional regions lie north of Interstate 40. It comes as no surprise that the New Mexico Game Commission, known to be antithetical to wolf recovery, approved the new plan because members got to dictate its content. Once again, the states win and the lobos lose.
This Guest Column was published in the Albuquerque Journal.
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 state of New Mexico should not be applauded for blocking the recovery of a critically endangered species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should instead be encouraged on the occasions they follow the recommendations of scientists, not accused of moving the goal posts of recovery.
- 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.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should include family groups in their release plan. Recovery won’t succeed unless they use all tools available to them, including the proven method of releasing family groups that include adult wolves.
- Cross fostering is one tool for improving the wild population’s genetic health, but it’s not enough. Many more wolves should be released this year from the hundreds in captive breeding programs. Rather than relying solely on cross-fostering, the Service should also release adults and families of wolves from captivity.
- 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 restricting the wolves to south of Interstate 40 and planning for no natural connectivity with the 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 wild population of Mexican wolves is at tremendous risk due to its small size and genetics. There are hundreds of wolves in the captive breeding program whose genes are not represented in the wild population.
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