As Utah officials had hoped, a draft federal plan for the recovery of the endangered Mexican gray wolf does not include Utah or Colorado in the area envisioned for the wolf’s range.
Released Thursday after decades of delay, the proposal appears to deviate sharply from a draft five years ago, when U.S. Fish and Wildlife scientists considered including southern Utah. The small-bodied wolf species once roamed the American Southwest and northern Mexico.
The earlier draft pegged the target for recovery at 750 animals in the United States. The new draft lowers the target to 320 animals sustained over eight years — still triple the current U.S. population — with another 170 in Mexico.
The draft drew a quick rebuke from conservationists who say it’s geared toward a political objective, rather than the biological one required by the Endangered Species Act.
“This reckless plan would turn over management of these unique and beautiful animals to wolf-hating state officials well-before they’re fully recovered and secure,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Independent biologists have concluded that the lobos’ recovery in the Grand Canyon and southern Rocky Mountains regions is essential to the long-term recovery of the species.”
Utah officials had long criticized the direction Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) wolf-recovery team had been heading with its call to establish more northerly populations. Without offering much proof, the Wildlife Board alleged that an expanded recovery area would lead to the “introduction” of Mexican wolves into Utah and dramatic losses in wildlife available for hunting. Utah-based anti-predator group Big Game Forever hailed the new draft as a victory for sportsmen.
“This will protect herds of elk, mule deer, and wild sheep populations in vitals areas of the Southern Rockies,” group president Ryan Benson wrote in an email to supporters.
A revised plan is long overdue, needed to replace one adopted in 1982. A court order requires the FWS to complete the revision by the end of November.
Unlike its northern cousin, the Mexican wolf has not thrived since it was reintroduced into the Blue Range straddling the Arizona-New Mexico border. Now the species is further imperiled by a loss of genetic diversity, yet FWS officials say the revised plan would address such threats and recover the lobo in 25 to 35 years.
“At the time of recovery, the service expects Mexican wolf populations to be stable or increasing in abundance, well-distributed geographically within their historical range, and genetically diverse,” the agency said in a statement.
The plan restricts the recovery zone to south of Interstate 40. There is evidence that the Mexican wolf’s historic range extended farther north, perhaps into Utah, though this possibility is under intense debate.
Today, 113 wolves, including 10 breeding pairs, inhabit New Mexico and Arizona, with another 30 to 35 in Mexico, according to Robinson.
Robinson says the number of wolves to be introduced from captivity is arbitrary; the FWS wants 22 of these animals to reach reproductive age before the wolf can be deemed recovered. Those wolves are needed to introduce fresh genes into the wild population, Robinson says.
But the plan does not require the animals to pass their genes down to offspring, Robinson pointed out. “You can put a bullet in each of these wolves when they reach two years and call it recovery,” he said.
He believes inbreeding will remain a serious threat to lobo survival unless the recovery includes three distinct, although interconnected, populations.
The plan has been posted on the Federal Register, where the public can submit comments until Aug. 29.
Former Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Director Greg Sheehan, who has long advocated keeping Mexican wolves out of Utah, has recently taken the helm at the FWS in an acting capacity and would likely be the official to sign off on any final plan.
Regional FWS officials say the proposed recovery plan calls for more agreements between states and the federal government regarding how many wolves are released into the wild, where they are released and over what time period. Environmentalists have pushed for years for more captive wolves to be released, but ranchers and elected leaders in rural communities have pushed back because the predators sometimes attack domestic livestock and wild game.
Last year, the Interior Department’s internal watchdog said the service had not fulfilled its obligation to remove Mexican gray wolves that preyed on pets and cattle.
The state of New Mexico has made complaints about the way the program has been managed, and in 2015 it refused to issue a permit to the FWS to release more of the predators in the state.
In a case before a federal appeals court, Utah and 18 other states argue that the Endangered Species Act requires the FWS to cooperate with them on how species are reintroduced within their borders. Federal attorneys say the law allows the agency to go around a state, if necessary, to save a species.
The court has yet to rule, and until it does, releases in New Mexico are prohibited.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This article was published in The Salt Lake Tribune.
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 wold 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 pushing 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 200 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 Salt Lake Tribune. >>>
E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org (no attachments)
Fax to 801-257-8800
Public Forum, The Salt Lake Tribune
90 S. 400 West, Suite 700
Salt Lake City, Utah 84101
DO MORE FOR LOBOS – COMMENT DEADLINE IS AUGUST 29
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan is available for public comment until August 29, and there will be four public meetings this summer in New Mexico and Arizona:
– 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,
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.