With its recent Draft Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Plan, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks to devolve its statutory authority and responsibility for recovery of a highly endangered species onto the states of Arizona and New Mexico. This will not only undermine the prospect for recovery of this and other endangered species, but will undermine the Endangered Species Act itself.
The Mexican gray wolf (canis lupus baileyi), aka lobo, is a subspecies of gray wolf, somewhat smaller than its northern cousins and better adapted to desert-like habitat. Like its northern cousins, the lobo was mercilessly persecuted — to the very brink of extinction. The last five lobos in the wild were captured in the 1970s and 1980s. Three of them, along with four others from two additional lineages already in captivity, became the progenitors of the approximately 400 lobos now on Earth, most of which live in captive breeding facilities — and die there.
The recovery effort began with releases of captive wolves into the Blue Range of Arizona and New Mexico in 1998, and more recently in Mexico. As of the beginning of this year, only 113 lobos were alive in the U.S., with another two dozen or so in Mexico. Natural genetic exchange between the two populations is almost impossible because of the existing border wall and unnecessary wolf removals by federal agents to appease livestock growers.
Because they are all descendants of the last seven of their kind, lobos are victims of inbreeding depression, which results in smaller litters and lower survival rates. After nearly 20 years of anemic efforts, recovery is nowhere in sight. The clear remedy is to release more lobos into suitable habitat as soon as possible, but the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah have managed to hijack the recovery planning process and supplant the previous science-based recovery recommendations with their own politically motivated ones.
In a November 2015 letter from the governors of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah to the Fish and Wildlife Service, 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”¦ .” This ultimatum was based purely on political considerations, not science, as it is entirely within the purview of the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service to designate recovery areas for an endangered species outside its core historic range if that’s what recovery requires. Given the reality of climate change, this is especially important in the case of the lobo. Nonetheless, the feckless Fish and Wildlife Service caved to the states’ demand that they be allowed a major role in crafting the recovery plan.
On three previous occasions, the Fish and Wildlife Service convened recovery teams to develop a scientifically and legally sound Mexican wolf recovery plan. Members of the Science and Planning Subgroup of the most recent team were, with one exception, eminent independent scientists with relevant expertise. They concluded that recovery of the lobo would require a minimum of three interconnected populations in the United States, each with at least 250 wolves, for a minimum of 750 overall.
The scientists recommended southern Colorado/northern New Mexico and the greater Grand Canyon ecoregion, extending into parts of Utah, as by far the most suitable additional areas for recovery since they provide the best remaining available habitat for lobos anywhere on the continent and will allow for genetic exchanges between populations. But once the affected states were allowed to dominate the planning process, these science-based recommendations were scrapped. Then a population viability model was front-loaded with data that produced a much lower population target than necessary for recovery — a number that the states had previously stated was the most they would accept.
The new draft recovery plan sets a recovery goal of just 320 wolves in the U.S. In addition, all lobos must live south of I-40, which bisects Arizona and New Mexico. And the U.S. population will be capped at 320 to 380 animals with removal of “excess” wolves.
A major portion of the recovery burden will be foisted onto Mexico (after all, they are Mexican wolves, right?). It should be noted here that the United States has no regulatory authority over wolf conservation in Mexico, all the empirical data on the potential for lobo recovery in Mexico implies great doubt regarding its capacity (e.g. too much private land and not enough prey), and then there’s the border wall.
The Draft Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Plan is a shameful sham and should be rejected.
Kirk Robinson is executive director of the Western Wildlife Conservancy.
This article was published in The Independent.
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 150 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 Independent HERE.
The comment period is over, but you can read the comments that were submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service HERE.
Links to the Draft Recovery Plan and supporting documentation are provided below.
Additional Documentation Referenced in Draft Plan:
Draft Biological Report for the Mexican Wolf, May 1, 2017 version
Mexican Wolf Habitat Suitability Analysis in Historical Range in Southwestern US and Mexico, April 2017 version
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.)
READ MORE: New Lobo ‘Recovery’ Plan Puts Politics Before Science Risks Recovery of Highly Endangered Mexican Gray Wolves