The Trump administration finalized a state-supported plan for recovering endangered Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest and Mexico on Wednesday, but the document quickly drew criticism from an unlikely combination of ranchers, Republican representatives and conservation advocates.
The environmental groups called the plan a “sham” and said the federal government was undermining its obligations to recover the animal under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. EarthJustice, an environmental law center, filed a notice of intent to sue the Interior Department late Wednesday over what it claims is the plan’s violation of the act.
Amy Lueders, the Southwest regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which drafted and finalized the document, said the process was collaborative and will lead to creation of a stable wolf population.
“Mexican wolves are on the road to recovery in the Southwest thanks to the cooperation, flexibility and hard work of our partners,” she said. “This spirit of collaboration is going to help us meet the recovery goals for this species. States, tribes, landowners, conservation groups, the captive breeding facilities, federal agencies and citizens of the Southwest can be proud of their roles in saving this sentinel of wilderness.”
The plan — which was supported by the State Game Commission — outlines establishing two “resilient, genetically diverse” populations, with targets of 320 wolves in New Mexico and Arizona south of Interstate 40. It also calls for 200 wolves in Mexico, a slightly higher number than was proposed in a draft version that was released over the summer.
Under the plan, the states will not have outright veto power over wolf releases, which they have sought, but decisions to release the animals will be made through a collaborative process among state, tribal and federal entities.
Genetic diversity in wolf populations and human depredation of the animals also are addressed, with the intent of removing the endangered species listing, according to Fish and Wildlife.
But nearly a dozen wolf conservation groups said the agency failed to address these issues in a way that would effectively recover the animals and responded to the finalized plan with cutting statements and legal action. Groups include the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians.
“The plan reads like something that wolves’ most virulent opponents would have written in their wildest dreams,” Christopher Smith, Southern Rockies wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement. “Clearly, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is catering to a very narrow set of interests that want to see this amazing species banished from their native Southwestern home.”
Recovery goals for the animals in the U.S. and Mexico should be closer to 750 in total, advocacy groups said, and should allow the wolves to range in the Grand Canyon region and parts of Northern New Mexico. These objectives were outlined in a 2011 plan drafted by the agency but never finalized.
Recent estimates suggest there are 113 wolves in New Mexico and Arizona.
The groups also said genetic diversity in the wild wolves is largely comparable to siblings, a composition that makes the species significantly less resilient.
In their notice of intent, EarthJustice wrote that the plan violates the Endangered Species Act and the requirement of a recovery plan.
“The plan contains shortcomings that will hinder — if not prevent — Mexican wolf recovery and threatens to lead to the extinction of this iconic species,” the group said.
Objections to wolf recovery have come from some New Mexico residents and ranchers, largely in areas around the Gila Wilderness, where many of the releases occur. They say the wolves pose a danger to the community and prey on lucrative livestock that graze there.
But these groups also expressed dismay at the final recovery strategy.
Caren Cowan, with the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, said she was disappointed with the plan and its reliance on Mexico.
“It is impossible to tie a plan like this to the dictates of a foreign country,” she said. “We would like to see a disconnect between the Mexican recovery and the U.S. recovery.”
Cowan said many of the association’s members feel there should be no wolves in New Mexico.
“But with that said, it is incumbent on us to come up with something that is workable,” she said. “The Fish and Wildlife Service ignores the people who have to live with the animals.”
Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., also said the plan falls short.
“It once again places the burden of recovery on the backs of New Mexicans and disregards the serious concerns of ranchers and farmers whose livelihoods are affected by the program,” he said in a statement. He added, however, that more recovery should take place in Mexico.
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish did not respond for comment, but the State Game Commission expressed support for the recovery plan earlier this year.
Michael Robinson, with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the final plan saw little transformation from its draft form.
“This really leaves the Mexican wolves in a terrible position,” he said.
This article was published in the Santa Fe New Mexican
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 is giving too much control over 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 recovery plan includes reckless delisting criteria for the critically endangered wolf. One criteria for delisitng states twenty-two wolves released from captivity must 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 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 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 Santa Fe New Mexican
Learn More About the Flawed Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan
~ Read the finalized Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan HERE.
~ Scientists and Wolf Biologists speak out against Recovery Plan
~ Below is the Draft Plan that was released in June of 2017 and “supporting” documents.
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