The US Fish and Wildlife Service has completed its revision to the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, setting a population target of 320 in the US to warrant removal of the Mexican gray wolf from the Endangered Species List. The plan calls for two populations of Mexican wolves: one of 320 animals in Arizona and New Mexico south of I-40, and one of at least 200 animals in Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental mountains.
“This strategy for the Mexican wolf addresses the threats to the species, including human-caused mortality, extinction risk associated with small population size, and the loss of gene diversity,” the service’s press release announcing the plan reads.
Human-caused mortality—usually illegal shooting—is the leading cause of death for Mexican wolves. Last year saw 14 wolf mortalities, including two that died during the annual count-and-capture operation. As SFR has previously reported, the wild population faces a genetic bottleneck that, if not soon alleviated by additional releases from the population of captive wolves, could lead to inbreeding on a level that impedes any chance of recovery.
Management efforts over the last three decades have been guided by a document published in 1982, and Mexican wolves were reintroduced to the wild from a captive-bred population in 1998. The service was compelled to complete its revision by the end of this month as part of a settlement agreement signed with the state of Arizona, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity. During the last population count, conducted at end of 2016, there were 113 wolves in the wild in the US, and about 31 in Mexico.
Officials developed the plan in cooperation with representatives from the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. What was finalized this fall, on initial review, appears to closely mirror the draft of the plan that was circulated this summer. As SFR reported then, conservation groups questioned the service’s choice in collaborating closely with states and even allowing them to dictate when and where wolves would be added to the wild population, given historic contentions over the reintroduction effort. New Mexico filed an ongoing lawsuit against the service to block additional releases, and withdrew from recovery efforts in 2011, citing concerns with the absence of a set goal for the population.
The game commission did, however, vote to support the plan in August. The presentation from staff focused on the service’s affirmation of historic range for the Mexican wolf as south of I-40 sufficient to concentrate recovery efforts there.
The finalized plan also softens language around state direction of the program, reading that decisions on releases will be “made cooperatively” by the federal agency and Arizona or New Mexico’s game and fish department.
“Mexican wolves are on the road to recovery in the Southwest thanks to the cooperation, flexibility and hard work of our partners,” Amy Lueders, Southwest regional director for the service, said in a press release. “The spirit of collaboration is going to help us meet the recovery goals for this species.”
During public meetings, ranchers voiced their frustrations with cohabiting with Mexican wolves and weathering the increased losses to their livestock, and hunting outfitters listed their woes with changes in elk behavior that followed the return of one of the state’s larger carnivores.
Staff at the service and the state agencies have said that social tolerance plays a part in these management decisions. So, despite suitable habitat around the Grand Canyon National Park and in the southern Rocky Mountains, wolf reintroductions will be kept to the southern half of Arizona and New Mexico. The target population of 320 is less than half of what was set in a previously drafted recovery plan that was leaked after it was shelved over objections from the states.
“This is just a numbers game and it’s not going to recover the species in any meaningful way,” Bryan Bird, with Defenders of Wildlife, tells SFR. “It’s not going to bring us an ecologically meaningful population.”
In places like Yellowstone, returning gray wolves led to a trophic cascade that has benefitted species as far down the food chain as aspen trees and cold-water fish species. Service staff have said that simply avoiding extinction is the primary goal for Mexican wolves, not that kind of ripple effect.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service 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 with no scientific justification whatsoever,” said David Parsons, former Mexican wolf recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service. “Using the states’ arbitrary upper limit as a population cap in the population viability model and forcing additional recovery needs to Mexico, the plan will guarantee that, from now to eternity, no more than a running average of 325 Mexican wolves will ever be allowed to exist in the entire US Southwest. This plan is a disgraceful sham.”
The Endangered Species Coalition analyzed 100,000 comments submitted through regulations.gov on the plan, and found 99 percent supported wolf recovery.
Environmental law nonprofit Earthjustice has filed a notice of intent to sue over the “gross inadequacies” of the plan on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the Endangered Wolf Center, David Parsons, and the Wolf Conservation Center.
The service says it expects to recover the Mexican wolf in 25 to 35 years and at an estimated cost of $178 million, spending $38 million just in the first five years.
This article was published by the Santa Fe Reporter
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:
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“¢ 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
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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