In the News: Wolves in Court
By Elizabeth Miller
A federal plan that's supposed to help restore populations of endangered wolves doesn't give the animals a fair chance for a real future, argues a new lawsuit filed by Western Environmental Law Center, WildEarth Guardians, Friends of Animals and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance against the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
One big issue in the litigation is just how many wolves there should be.
The feds have been working to revise the rules governing management of both gray wolves in the northern half of the country and Mexican wolves found in New Mexico and Arizona. In January, the service released a revised rule for Mexican wolves that expands the area wolves are allowed to occupy and the area they can initially be released from captivity. It also lists the Mexican wolf subspecies separate from the gray wolf for the first time for protections under the Endangered Species Act. The target population for Mexican wolves was increased from 100 to 300-325.
The rule allows for “take of” Mexican wolves to protect livestock and domestic dogs—as in, wolves can be shot if seen attacking either. Wolves can also be killed or removed to protect elk and deer from unacceptable impacts.
Benjamin Tuggle, Southwest regional director for the service, said at the announcement that the increased area will allow a larger, more genetically diverse population to be established while providing “necessary management tools to address negative interactions.”
The coalition of conservation groups that has filed the lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service and its director, Daniel Ashe, also naming Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and the United States Department of the Interior in the lawsuit, argues that the plan fails to give Mexican wolves a decent chance at recovery.
When the US Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced 11 captive-bred Mexican wolves to New Mexico and Arizona in 1998, there were no Mexican wolves left in the US. In the 17 years that followed, wolves climbed slowly toward what was thought, when the plan for recovery was crafted in 1982, a goal so ambitious it might never be attained: 100 wild Mexican wolves in the US. The number of wolves in the recovered population crept slowly toward that number, hovering in the 40s and 50s for most of a decade, before finally reaching 109 in 2014.
A scientific panel convened around 2011 estimated a healthy, sustainable and genetically diverse population of wolves would be 750 wolves in three distinct population areas, connected by corridors. The Fish and Wildlife Service itself reported in 2012 that the struggle toward recovery in part stemmed from too few wolves having been released from captivity to reintroduce the wild population.
The population of Mexican wolves in New Mexico and Arizona is the world’s only wild population, the groups contend, and argue that as such, it deserves protection as an “essential experimental population,” rather than its current designation as “nonessential experimental population,” which allows for more flexibility in management.
“The problem with that is that there’s only one wild population, so losing the one wild population would mean there are no more wild ones,” Judy Calman, staff attorney with New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, tells SFR.
As relief, the lawsuit asks the Fish and Wildlife Service to classify the population as essential, acknowledging that if these Mexican wolves are eradicated, there will be none left in the world; use the best available science, which calls for higher population counts; and further provide for the conservation of the species.
“It doesn’t seem like recovery was really the objective,” Calman says. “It seems like a sort of political compromise among factions was the objective, and that’s just really not what Fish and Wildlife is charged with doing.”
The lawsuit was filed Thursday, July 2, in US District Court. Hearings will take place in Tucson.
This article was published in the Santa Fe Reporter.
A shorter article on the same topic appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News.
Photo courtesy of California Wolf Center.
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 and talking points for writing your letter are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience. Don't try to include all of the points below. Your letter will be effective if you keep it brief and focus on a few key points.
Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
- Peer reviewed science by top wolf experts says that Mexican wolves need four things to recover: they need two new populations north of Interstate 40 and the ability to travel between the three populations; they need genetic rescue, which requires expedited releases from the captive population; human caused mortality must decrease; and there must be an absolute minimum of 750 wolves in the wild. The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s new rules for Mexican gray wolves allow for none of these things.
- The overall population increase this year was good news, but the wild population of Mexican gray wolves remains critically endangered and in need of additional populations, new releases to improve the population’s genetics, and a scientifically valid recovery plan.
- Geneticists have warned for years that the wild population needs greater diversity, but the US Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to release new wolves into the wild to improve the wolves’ genetic health.
- The window is closing on fixing the genetic issue, and one of the easiest steps the US Fish and Wildlife Service can take is to release more wolves from captivity, and do it now.
- Wolves are an essential part of the balance of nature. They keep elk and deer herds healthy by ensuring the most fit animals survive.
- Mexican gray wolves are beautiful, intelligent, family oriented animals who were persecuted and nearly exterminated by the government. Our government should do everything in its power to ensure these native animals do not go extinct in the wild again.
- Wolves are responsible for less than 1% of livestock losses. Most livestock losses are due to disease, accidents, and bad weather. The livestock industry has a responsibility to share public lands with wolves and other wildlife by using coexistence methods to avoid conflicts between livestock and wolves.
- Wolves are part of God’s creation. We have a responsibility to take care of them.
- Public polling continues to show overwhelming support for wolf recovery in Arizona and New Mexico. In a 2008 poll of registered voters, 77 % of Arizonans and 69% of New Mexicans supported “the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf into these public lands in Arizona and New Mexico.”
- In a 2013 poll of registered voters, 87% of both Arizonans and New Mexicans agreed that “wolves are a vital part of America’s wilderness and natural heritage.” 83% of Arizonans and 80% of New Mexicans agreed that “the US Fish and Wildlife Service should make every effort to help wolves recover and prevent extinction.” In thinking about wolf reintroduction, 81% of Arizonans and 73% of New Mexicans supported restoring wolves to the Grand Canyon region and northern New Mexico.
- Wildlife biologists believe that Mexican wolves will improve the overall health of the Southwest and its rivers and streams – just as the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone has helped restore balance to its lands and waters. Science has repeatedly demonstrated that wolves are keystone carnivores who help to keep wildlife like elk and deer healthy and bring balance to the lands they inhabit.
- Mexican gray wolves are beautiful, intelligent, family-oriented animals with emotions who were persecuted and nearly exterminated by the government. Elected officials and the US Fish and Wildlife Service have a moral responsibility to do all in their power to avoid the extinction of these important animals.
- Wolves generate economic benefits - a University of Montana study found that visitors who come to see wolves in Yellowstone contribute roughly $35.5 million annually to the regional economy.
- Thank the paper for publishing the article.
- 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.
- Keep your letter brief, between 150-200 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.”
- Urge your fellow citizens to urge their representatives in Congress to oppose the Gosar-Pearce bill to strip Mexican gray wolves of their Endangered Species Act protections.
- Provide your name, address, phone number and address. The paper won’t publish these, but they want to know you are who you say you are.
Santa Fe Reporter
Las Cruces Sun-News