By Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity
As human activities push native species to extinction at thousands of times the historic rate, it has never been clearer that Americans need to recalibrate the balance between our own needs and those of the rest of the planet.
A quick inventory of some of the once-common but now greatly imperiled native animals across the West offers a crash course in the cost of our politically driven refusal in recent years to aggressively use the tools of the Endangered Species Act to save plants and animals and the habitats we share with them.
With only a few thousand remaining, lesser prairie chickens have now lost 90 percent of their historic habitat, the majority of it to oil and gas drilling and ranching activities.
Sage grouse once numbered several million but have now been reduced to fewer than 200,000 thanks to the unchecked energy and agricultural development of their habitat.
Due largely to unbridled energy development of their habitat, the dunes sagebrush lizard, which occupies less than 2 percent of the oil- and gas-rich Permian Basin, is now one of the nation’s most imperiled lizards, in part because of outsourcing of a voluntary ‘conservation plan’ by the Texas comptroller to a private organization run by industry lobbyists.
Nowhere is the imbalance of human activity and the needs of a highly imperiled native species on more continuous display than here in New Mexico, a state that’s now home to about 2 million humans, 1.3 million cattle and, at last count, only 46 Mexican wolves.
We’ve long known that wolves are integral to the health of their ecosystems, through providing carrion for scavengers such as badgers, eagles and bears, and limiting elk browsing of cottonwood saplings along streams.
But due to a Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program structured largely to serve the livestock industry, in the 16 years of the program’s existence the government has shot 13 wolves and accidentally killed 19 more as a consequence of capture, primarily to protect livestock. Other Mexican wolves have been held in captivity and never bred. Only three wolves have been released from a captive-breeding facility since 2008.
As a result, only 83 Mexican wolves could be counted in Arizona and New Mexico in January, and they are inbred and consequently suffer from lower reproductive rates, with just five breeding pairs. Yet the ever-pliant U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes allowing even more wolves to be killed and will hold a public hearing on its proposal and other alternatives in Truth or Consequences on Aug. 13.
Those who would contend the Endangered Species Act needs to be better balanced to meet the needs of humans should consider these three numbers: 50/40/50.
50 percent of Earth’s fresh water is now used by humans every year.
40 percent of the planet is now devoted to human food production.
50 percent of the planet’s land mass has now been transformed for human use.
As we add nearly a quarter of a million humans to the planet every day in our push toward a population of 8 billion, the evidence is mounting that we’re losing the battle against unbridled habitat destruction and human-caused climate change.
What we’ve learned over the four decades since the passage of the Endangered Species Act is that its robust use helps us to balance our own short-term needs with the long-term environmental and economic interests of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
And we’ve learned that without the act, which has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the species it protects, we would have no balance at all.
Michael Robinson works for the Center for Biological Diversity in Silver City, and is author of “Predatory Bureaucracy: The Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West” (University Press of Colorado, 2005).
This Op-Ed was published in the Albuquerque Journal.
Endangered Mexican Wolves Need Your Help!
With fewer than 90 Mexican gray wolves in the wild, US Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to make changes that could push them closer to extinction or finally help them thrive. The decision will be made in the next few months and they need to hear from you!
Submit a letter to the editor responding to this article and influence decision-makers and thousands of your fellow citizens. Tips and talking points 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.
- Start by thanking the paper for publishing this op-ed.
- To help restore balance, USFWS should move forward with allowing new wolves to be released throughout the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. The Mexican gray wolf is the most endangered mammal in the U.S. with only about 83 in the wild. Additional wolves must be released into the wild now to increase the genetic health of the species. Numerous wolves are in captive breeding facilities around the country, prepared for, and awaiting, release.
- Wolves once lived throughout New Mexico and Arizona and played a critical role in keeping the balance of nature in place. We need to restore this important animal that has been missing for too long.
- People who care about wolves have an important opportunity to speak out for their recovery in August. US Fish and Wildlife Service will hold a hearing in Truth or Consequences, NM on August 13th on the future of critically endangered Mexican gray wolves. More information can be found at mexicanwolves.org.
- Wolves need freedom from boundaries. Given room to roam, the wolves will establish themselves in suitable areas with adequate game. USFWS must change the rules that do not allow wolves to establish new packs and populations in additional areas that are essential to their recovery. Capturing and moving wolves because they roam beyond an artificial boundary is always a risky business that can result in death or trauma to the wolf.
- The USFWS should designate Mexican gray wolves as essential. By labeling all of the wild wolves as “nonessential” the USFWS ignores science and the reality of 16 years of experience with reintroducing wolves. The 83 wolves in the wild have up to four generations of experience in establishing packs and raising pups and are over 22% of all of the Mexican wolves in the world. The fourth generation wild lobos are not expendable and are essential to recovering this unique subspecies of wolf.
Make sure you:
- The USFWS needs to quit stalling and complete a comprehensive recovery plan. USFWS admits that their 1982 recovery plan is not scientifically sound and does not meet current legal requirements – yet in its proposed rule USFWS continues to emphasize a woefully inadequate population of only 100 wolves in the wild.
- Thank the paper for publishing the article.
- Do not repeat any negative messages from the article, such as “cows may have been killed by wolves, 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, between 150-300 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.”
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE USFWS PROPOSAL AND UPCOMING HEARINGS, CLICK HERE. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
- Provide your name, email address, phone number and address. The paper won’t publish these, but they want to know you are who you say you are.
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