TUCSON, Ariz. - On April 26, a coalition of wolf conservation groups, environmental organizations and a retired federal wolf biologist announced a court settlement requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) to prepare a long-delayed recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves by November 2017.
With only 97 individuals existing in the wild at the end of 2015, and fewer than 25 in Mexico, the Mexican gray wolf is one of the most endangered mammals in North America and faces a serious risk of extinction. Now USFW is being required to meet a legal obligation to complete a legally-sufficient recovery plan, with the ultimate goal of a healthy, sustainable population of Mexican gray wolves in the wild.
"The settlement announced today provides hope that the lobo can be a living, breathing part of the southwestern landscape instead of just a long-lost frontier legend," said Tim Preso, an attorney for Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization. "But to realize that hope, federal officials must take up the challenge of developing a legitimate, science-based recovery plan for the Mexican wolf rather than yielding to political pressure."
Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in November 2014 to challenge USFW's multi-decade delay in completing a recovery plan for the Mexican wolf. Earthjustice represents Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, retired Fish and Wildlife Service Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator David R. Parsons, the Endangered Wolf Center and the Wolf Conservation Center in the case. The announcement on April 26 of a settlement agreement followed a September 2015 ruling by a federal judge in Tucson that rejected the government's effort to dismiss the case.
"Wolves love to follow paths," said David Parsons, former Mexican wolf recovery leader. "Now, finally, the path to recovery for the critically endangered lobos of the southwest will be blazed."
"After four decades of delay, a scientific roadmap for recovery of the Mexican gray wolf will finally be reality," said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. "The recovery plan should trigger new releases of captive-bred wolves into the wild and establish new Mexican wolf populations in the Grand Canyon and southern Rocky Mountain ecosystems."
In 1982 USFW developed a document labeled recovery plan, for the Mexican wolf, however, according to Earthjustice, USFW said the document was incomplete, intended for only short-term application, and did not contain objective and measurable recovery criteria for delisting as required by [the Endangered Species Act].
The 34-year-old document did not provide the necessary science-based guidance to move the Mexican gray wolf toward recovery, according to activitst groups.
In 2010, USFW said the wild Mexican gray wolf population was not thriving and remained at risk of failure and said failure to develop an up-to-date recovery plan resulted in inadequate guidance for the reintroduction and recovery effort of the wolf.
"We are racing extinction on the Mexican gray wolf," said Eva Sargent, senior Southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife. "The best available science, not political pressure, should lead the recovery planning for the Mexican gray wolf. We need more wolves and less politics."
The plaintiffs joining the settlement agreement include two environmental education organizations that operate captive-breeding facilities that have supported recovery efforts by providing Mexican gray wolves for release into the wild.
Activists say the Mexican gray wolves survival continues to be threatened by the lack of a recovery plan to ensure that wolf releases are sufficient to establish a viable population.
"Failing to plan is planning to fail," said Maggie Howell, executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center in New York. "And for these iconic and imperiled wolves, failure means extinction. This settlement represents a necessary and long overdue step toward recovering America's most endangered gray wolf and preventing an irrevocable loss from happening on our watch."
"Education is a key component to the recovery of a species, especially for an animal that has been historically misunderstood and misrepresented. Equally important is an active, up-to-date recovery plan for the species in the wild," said Virginia Busch, executive director of the Endangered Wolf Center in St. Louis, Mo. "The genetic variability that organizations like the Endangered Wolf Center hold with the Mexican wolf population is hugely valuable for releases and cross-fostering opportunities in the wild. We are pleased to hear that the Service will be taking an active role in developing a recovery plan in a timely manner."
Please help endangered Mexican gray wolves with a letter to the editor today!
The Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to develop a recovery plan for the Mexican wolves by November of 2017, but with less than 100 living in the wild that may not be soon enough to save this critically endangered species. The wild population of Mexican wolves is at tremendous risk due to its small size and genetics and wolves from the captive breeding program should be released to increase their genetic diversity.
This story was covered by multiple news sources (see below). You can write one letter and modify it slightly for each Editor. Also be sure to leave your comments on the websites of the articles provided below.
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
- It has now been 40 years since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first listed the Mexican gray wolf, or "lobo," under the Endangered Species Act.
- At last official count, only 97 Mexican gray wolves were found in the wild, making them one of the most endangered wolves in the world. The wild population declined 12% since last year’s count. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan to release only one family in 2016 is sadly inadequate to the need to increase the numbers and genetic health of endangered lobos in the wild.
- The wild population of Mexican wolves is at tremendous risk due to its small size and genetics. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan to release only one new family from the hundreds of wolves in captive breeding programs is entirely inadequate to the need for genetic rescue. At least five new families should be released this year.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is allowing politics to override science based recommendations for wolf recovery. Right now, the Service has a plan to trap and remove a father wolf over livestock as soon as his mate has pups, without any requirement for livestock owners to actively protect their livestock from depredations.
- Since the lobo reintroduction program began in the late 1990s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has never released enough wolves from captivity, not only impeding a steady increase in the lobos’ numbers but also triggering a continual loss of genetic diversity in the wild lobo population over the past 18 years.
- The US Fish and Wildlife Service should stop letting anti-wolf state officials obstruct wolf recovery. The last effort to create a Mexican wolf recovery plan stalled precisely because the states were given opportunities to weigh in before the work of the scientific experts was released for public comment. The most recent recovery planning process, which began in 2011, ended amidst allegations of political interference by these same states with the science.
- During the entire Obama administration (2009 to present), only four new wolves have been released from captivity. Of these, three are dead and one has been returned to captivity. The longer the wild population goes without new releases, the worse the problems will become, requiring even more wolf releases in the future.
- No matter how you measure it, there are clear, concrete repercussions to the dwindling genetic diversity in the wild. We are seeing smaller litters, lower pup survival and the population is less able to adapt over time to changing conditions.
- Wolf releases from captivity are necessary to improve the all-around health of the wild Mexican gray wolf population, in terms of both their genetics and their numbers.
- Cross-fostering of pups is a risky and complex experimental technique. Opportunities for doing this successfully are extremely rare. At best, the Fish and Wildlife Service may be able to get a few new pups into wild packs. At worst, pups introduced into packs they were not born into may be killed or abandoned. A scientific genetic rescue plan will involve releasing many more adult wolves, not just cross-fostering.
- Time is running out for the Mexican gray wolf. The Service must immediately release multiple families of wolves from captivity to beat the clock of lobo extinction.
- The captive population still has genes not represented in the wild population. Therefore, releases from this population would help increase the genetic diversity in the wild population.
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This story was covered by these news sources.
Grand Canyon News
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