Conservation organizations on Wednesday sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to force it to complete a long overdue, legally required recovery plan for the Mexican gray wolf, the lobo of Southwestern lore.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Arizona, aims to enforce compliance with rules the agency adopted 38 years ago to guide recovery of the federally endangered species driven to near extinction by wolf extermination campaigns of the 19th and 20th centuries.
It asks the court to declare the agency in violation of the Endangered Species Act, and order it to “prepare and implement a scientifically based, legally valid” final recovery plan within a year of the court’s judgment.
The Mexican gray wolf was reintroduced into a small area of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico in 1998 as part of a strategy to reach a population of 100 wolves, including 18 breeding pairs, by 2006.
Today, the population stands at 83 wolves, and five breeding pairs. They are managed under restrictions that do not permit the mobile, clannish hunters to colonize new territory, increasing the likelihood of inbreeding, according to the lawsuit. The restrictions also allow excessive killing and removal of wolves that take livestock, the lawsuit says.
By the agency’s own assessment in a recent draft environmental impact report, the existing population is “considered small, genetically impoverished, and significantly below estimates of viability appearing in the scientific literature.”
Sherry Barrett, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mexican gray wolf recovery coordinator, was unavailable for comment.
Plaintiffs including the Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Endangered Wolf Center, the Wolf Conservation Center and David R. Parsons, a biologist who served as the agency’s Mexican gray wolf recovery coordinator from 1990 to 1999, accuse the agency of yielding to political pressure from ranchers, hunting groups and state officials in Utah, Arizona and Colorado.
In a letter to former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in late 2011, for instance, Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert urged that Colorado and Utah be excluded from what he described as “the Mexican gray wolf equation,” on grounds that those states were not “within its core historic range.”
The agency, in 2013, published documents based on recent genetic research showing that the species scientists know as Canis lupus baileyi ranged as far north as Utah and Nebraska.
“Unfortunately, when confronted with views from various interest groups -- particularly livestock industry organizations, state wildlife agencies and the less enlightened hunting organizations – the agency takes a head-in-the-sand approach,” Parsons said in an interview. “What seems to be driving things in this case are the politics surrounding the Mexican gray wolf.”
Since 1982, the agency has convened three different scientific teams to prepare a formal recovery plan for the Mexican gray wolf.
The most recent effort produced a draft recovery plan in 2012 that recommended establishing two additional Mexican gray wolf populations, one in the Grand Canyon and another in the southern Rocky Mountains of New Mexico. The overall goal was to create three self-sustaining sub populations totaling 750 wolves.
The plan also suggested several areas of suitable habitat for reintroduction efforts including land in Arizona, New Mexico, southern Utah and southern Colorado.
That plan, however, was never published, and the recovery team that produced it never reconvened to review the proposal’s viability, according to the lawsuit.
“The agency has caved in to demands of the anti-wolf states,” Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said. “Meanwhile, decades after it decided to reintroduce it into the wilds, the Mexican gray wolf remains on the precipice of extinction.”
Your help is needed to keep Mexican wolf recovery in the news!
Letters to the editor are powerful tools read by the public and policy makers.
Let’s rally behind the message that a recovery plan is the road to survival!
Please submit a letter and highlight the importance of wolves to ecosystems, how wolves are imperiled due to lack of genetic diversity, and that innovative “coexistence” programs are underway to prevent conflict. (See talking points below for more ideas.)
Get started right away. Make a difference for wolves; be a voice for those who can’t speak. Everything you need follows—tips for writing, where to send, etc.
Be sure to use your own words and write from your heart! Tell your own story and don’t delay. Your chances of getting published increase if you respond within a day or two of the article’s publication.
Write one letter—send it to all NEWSPAPERS!
Write one letter, and send a slightly revised edition to each paper. (Just change the opening line… E.g. “Thanks to the Daily Star for your article”, or “Thanks to the Arizona Republic for your article…”)
Submit your letters at these links:
Sample Talking Points
Include some of these points but use your own words. See tips below for crafting a good letter.
About the importance of Mexican gray wolves:
- Recent polls confirm that the majority of voters in both Arizona and New Mexico strongly support wolf recovery.
- Lobos are in dire straits! Once an icon of the American southwest, there are only 83 left in the wild in the United States.
- Wolves are important carnivores that contribute to the environmental health of the areas they inhabit. Wolves help keep nature in balance for all of us.
- We have a moral responsibility to do all we can to restore these endangered animals to their essential natural role.
- There are many resources and tools available to help livestock owners coexist responsibly with wolves and other wildlife.
- Mexican wolves are intelligent, family oriented animals who should be protected and recovered from the brink of extinction.
About the litigation for a new Mexican wolf recovery plan:
- The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s most recent recovery team has done extensive, rigorous work to determine what needs to be done to save the Mexican gray wolf, but the Service has still never written or implemented a legally sufficient Mexican gray wolf recovery plan.
- The US Fish and Wildlife Service is mandated to put science and recovery ahead of special interest politics.
- The lobos were listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1976, almost 40 years ago. And even though the ESA legally requires the Service to develop recovery plans for such critically threatened wildlife, the Service still hasn’t done so for Mexican gray wolves. Isn’t it about time?
- Not only is a recovery plan legally required, but it would bring science to the forefront and get the wolves out of danger faster – which is the point of the reintroduction program.
- A recovery plan provides a necessary, science-based road map for wildlife managers to follow. Only with a plan can they guide Mexican gray wolves from being critically endangered to being recovered.
- Recovery team scientists agree that, in order to survive, lobos require the establishment of at least three linked populations. The habitats capable of supporting the two additional populations are in the Grand Canyon ecoregion and in northern New Mexico/southern Colorado. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is ignoring the scientists’ recommendations by proposing a rule change that will not allow Mexican wolves into these key habitats.
- The current recovery team has not met since 2011. In the meantime, lobos have continued to struggle to survive in the wild. How can a science-based plan be produced or implemented when the team isn’t meeting and draft recommendations are being suppressed?
Letter Writing Tips
* Start by thanking the paper for the article
* Keep it short and sweet—150 words or less. Choose one or two points and make those well. Don’t try to cover everything.
* Provide your name, address and phone number; this info will not be published, but they are required for the paper to publish your letter.
* Make one or two clear points vs. attempting to cover several--it’s hard to make several points with this short word length; letters get confusing and watered down.
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