ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal judge has approved a settlement requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to finish a long-overdue recovery plan for the endangered Mexican gray wolf within a year.
U.S. Judge Jennifer Zipps in the District of Arizona on Monday approved the agreement reached in April by wolf advocacy groups, the states of Utah and Arizona, and the service.
The settlement compels Fish and Wildlife to complete a species recovery plan by the end of November 2017 that sets parameters for its management of the Mexican wolf reintroduction program, including where wolves should be allowed to roam as well as population targets.
The service has failed to finish a recovery plan three times since the first plan was adopted in 1982.
New Mexico’s Game and Fish Department, which intervened in the case, declined to join the settlement “due to the overly aggressive time frame it specifies,” a spokesman told the Journal in April.
Game and Fish has been at odds with the service over the wolf program for years and has urged a new recovery plan. Game and Fish did not respond to requests for comment.
“The wolves have been in a political tug of war,” said Bryan Bird, the Santa Fe-based Southwest program director of Defenders of Wildlife. “We hope (the recovery plan) will be scientifically defensible, and we hope that it is going to resolve a lot of the disagreements.”
The settlement requires the recovery plan to consider “all available scientific and commercial information from appropriate state agencies and other entities,” including from New Mexico, and be supported by “an independent peer review.”
The population of Mexican wolves in southwestern New Mexico and eastern Arizona has struggled despite 18 years of effort to reintroduce captive-bred animals to the wild.
The population was bred from just seven animals, which has constricted the gene pool; advocates say Fish and Wildlife hasn’t done enough to get genetically diverse wolves out of captivity and into the wild.
Opponents of the program, including many New Mexico ranchers in the wolf recovery area around the Gila National Forest, say the wolves are a menace to their cattle herds and pets.
There were 97 Mexican wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona at last count in early 2016, according to Fish and Wildlife, down from 110 wolves the prior year.
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 for writing your letter are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience. Don’t try to include all the talking points in your letter.
Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
• Mexican gray wolves need a recovery plan that is based on science, not politics.
• The Mexican gray wolf recovery program has been operating without a substantive recovery plan for far too many years. The 1982 plan should be updated with the input of scientific experts who worked on the most recent draft attempt.
• The last attempt at a Mexican gray wolf recovery plan by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was drafted by scientific experts but then abandoned because it was met with political resistance from state agencies hostile to wolf recovery. The Service cannot ignore this draft plan any longer because it is now required by the court to include all available scientific information.
• Recovery of Mexican gray wolves cannot occur wholly in Mexico. There are no large blocks of public lands, there is not enough suitable habitat and prey, and there may not be enough resources to do the job. The recovery plan should focus on areas where wolf recovery is actually possible and recommended by scientists.
• The science says there must be new Mexican wolf populations in the Grand Canyon region (northern AZ/southern UT) and the Southern Rockies (northern New Mexico/southern CO), human caused mortality must be reduced, and there should be no fewer than 750 wolves.
• It has now been 40 years since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first listed the Mexican gray wolf 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 wild lobo population is in desperate need of genetic improvement that can only be obtained with the release of more wolves from captivity. The captive population harbors genetic diversity not present in the wild population and we are seeing negative impacts to wild wolves as a result, including smaller litters, lower pup survival rates, and a population that is less able to adapt to changing conditions.
• 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 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.”
• Scientists 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.
• 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.
• We have a moral, economic and scientific responsibility to restore endangered species like the Mexican gray wolf.
Make sure you:
• 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 and 350 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.”
• 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.
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