WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued two final rules regarding the Mexican wolf subspecies Friday. One rule established separate protection for the Mexican wolf as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Mexican wolf had previously been protected under the listing for the gray wolf. The second, more controversial rule, revises the management procedures for the experimental population of Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico.
The rules are in response to a 2004 petition and several lawsuits filed by environmental groups, including one filed last November by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and allies to compel the federal agency to finalize a recovery plan for the wolves, one of the most endangered mammals in North America. The new rule that protects the Mexican wolf as a separate subspecies under the ESA will facilitate the development of the long-delayed recovery plan, the CBD said. The controversy stems from the new management provisions rule for the experimental population.
"The Fish & Wildlife Service's new rule offers some useful reforms, but it ultimately overwhelms them with harmful 'poison-pill' provisions that conflict with prevailing scientific recommendations and that will make it impossible to recover this extremely rare and embattled species," Earthjustice's managing attorney Heidi McIntosh was quoted as saying in the CBD's press release.
The USFWS acknowledged that the limits inherent in the original 1998 management rule for the experimental population did not allow for necessary population growth and improved genetic variation within the population, but the agency maintains that the new rule will address these problems while "minimizing impacts on livestock operators, local communities and wild ungulates," according to the agency's statement.
Conservationists disagree, claiming the new rule caps the population at numbers too low for recovery, bans the wolves from areas required for their recovery, and makes approval for wolf kill permits easier to obtain, the CBD noted in its response to the publication of the rules.
While the experimental population is termed "nonessential," meaning that the failure of the population would not further endanger the existing wild population, it is hoped that the population will contribute to the recovery of the wild Mexican wolf population, which had less than 83 individuals and only five breeding pairs in the 2013 count, according to an Environment Impact Statement issued in December 2014.
While the management revision establishes a larger area for the wolves, it also provides "the necessary management tools to address negative interactions. The expanded area for the Mexican wolf experimental population is accompanied by clearer and more flexible rules to support the interests of local stakeholders. Successfully establishing a larger population of Mexican wolves in a wider working landscape requires striking an appropriate balance between enabling wolf population growth and minimizing impacts on livestock operators, local communities and wild ungulates. This new rule achieves that balance," The USFWS' Southwest Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle said in the agency's press release.
This view is not shared by the CBD and other conservation groups, and they are prepared to fight the new provisions. "The Mexican gray wolf recovery program has been hamstrung from the start, and this new management rule doesn't go nearly far enough to fix the problem," the CBD's Michael Robinson said in the group's statement. "Capping the population and keeping them out of the Grand Canyon and northern New Mexico will keep the lobo on the brink of extinction."
Both final rules are effective Feb. 17.
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