This week the Arizona Game and Fish Department filed a lawsuit against the federal government over its failure to complete a recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves, but conservationists worry the department’s real agenda isn’t aimed at helping this imperiled species thrive.
Mexican gray wolves once roamed vast portions of the southwest, but were virtually wiped out by the 1900s. In 1976 they were listed as an endangered species and bi-national recovery efforts between the U.S. and Mexico began. Still, despite starting a temporary recovery plan in 1982, there hasn’t been much progress made since the release of the first 11 in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in Arizona in 1998.
The lawsuit filed this week in federal court by the department and the state’s Attorney General’s office argues that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Department of the Interior have failed to come up with an updated recovery plan in violation of federal law.
An updated recovery plan is unquestionably needed, but wolf advocates believe the ultimate goal of this lawsuit is to establish a target number of wolves needed to be able to declare them recovered. When that happens, federal protection can be removed and the state can have control over management decisions, which could prove deadly for a population that has barely started growing.
Heidi McIntosh, an attorney with Earthjustice, told the Arizona Daily Star, “Some would argue that the state could start treating wolves the same way they treat coyotes. That’s why federal protection is so important.”
According to a coalition of groups supporting real recovery efforts, the state has already shown its hostility through a number of actions aimed at hindering recovery from advocating for killing them to trying to stop releases of more and bullying the FWS to cap the number of wolves allowed to live in the wild at 325 – a number they argue isn’t based on anything even remotely scientific.
That number was established in January when the FWS announced it would be protecting these wolves as a separate subspecies. According to organizations who are suing over that number and other harmful measures that were put in place, scientists from the FWS’ own recovery team believe there need to be at least 750 wolves in the wild.
As of now, Mexican wolves aren’t even close to reaching that number, but there are currently an estimated 300 of them in facilities around the U.S. who are part of a captive breeding program. They offer hope for the future of this species, but only if they’re allowed to return to the landscape.
We know more need to be released and they need to be able to disperse and establish new territories, but efforts to allow them to do what they need to do to survive continue to be impeded by anti-wolf politics in both Arizona and New Mexico.
Read this article on Care2 Petition's website here.
You can read an article about this lawsuit published in the Arizona Republic and write a letter to the Editor here.
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