ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — After repeated failures over decades, U.S. wildlife officials have finally drafted a recovery plan for endangered wolves that once roamed parts of the American Southwest and northern Mexico.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is under a court order to complete the plan for the Mexican gray wolf by the end of November.
The draft document released Thursday calls for focusing recovery of the wolves in core areas of the predators' historic range. That means south of Interstate 40 in the two states and in Mexico, and not as far north as the North Rim, as some groups wanted. The document also addresses threats, such as genetic diversity.
"At the time of recovery, the service expects Mexican wolf populations to be stable or increasing in abundance, well-distributed geographically within their historical range, and genetically diverse," the agency said in a statement.
That didn't wash with many conservation groups.
“It is critical that some of the best habitat in Arizona for wolves – the Grand Canyon region – be part of this recovery effort,” said Emily Renn, Executive Director of Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project. “Capping the population and limiting the region for recovery so severely is not a recipe for a recovered Mexican wolf population.”
Others said Thursday the criteria for delisting the species sets the bar too low and goes against previous recommendations that called for establishing populations in the Grand Canyon area and as far north as Colorado.
Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity blamed heavy-handed management by federal wildlife managers as one of the reasons wolf numbers have remained low.
"The states and federal government will eventually figure out they're going to need to kill fewer wolves and introduce more genetically valuable wolves if the population is going to grow," he said.
Bryan Bird with the group Defenders of Wildlife suggested politics, more than science, influenced the plan.
"It's a backroom deal with the states that resist wolf recovery and fail to understand the transformational benefits to the entire landscape when Mexican gray wolves thrive," Bird said.
The recovery plan is a long time coming as the original guidance for how to restore wolves to the Southwest was adopted in 1982.
The lack of a plan has spurred numerous legal challenges by environmentalists as well as skirmishes over states' rights under the Endangered Species Act.
Acknowledging the discord, regional Fish and Wildlife Service officials say the proposed recovery plan calls for more agreements between states and the federal government regarding how many wolves are released into the wild, where they are released and over what time period.
Fish and Wildlife has suggested that a population of at least 320 Mexican gray wolves would have to survive in the wild over a period of several years before the species can be considered recovered. That's nearly three times the number of wolves currently in New Mexico and Arizona.
Environmentalists have pushed for years for more captive wolves to be released, but ranchers and elected leaders in rural communities have pushed back because the predators sometimes attack domestic livestock and wild game.
Last year, the Interior Department's internal watchdog said Fish and Wildlife had not fulfilled its obligation to remove Mexican gray wolves that preyed on pets and cattle.
The state of New Mexico has multiple complaints about the way the program has been managed, and in 2015 it refused to issue a permit to Fish and Wildlife to release more of the predators in the state.
In a case that went before a federal appeals court, New Mexico and 18 other states argued that the Endangered Species Act requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to cooperate with them on how species are reintroduced within their borders. Federal attorneys contended that the law allows the agency to go around a state, if necessary, to save a species.
The court lifted an injunction that prohibited releases in New Mexico, but the overall merits of the case are still pending in district court.
There are now more of the wolves roaming the Southwest than at any time since the federal government began trying to reintroduce the animals nearly two decades ago. The most recent annual survey shows at least 113 wolves spread between southwestern New Mexico and southeast Arizona.
Federal officials have scheduled four meetings in New Mexico and Arizona to gather public comments on the proposal.
Show your support for Mexican wolves 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 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
• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required, by law, to incorporate the best available science into its Mexican gray wolf recovery plan. Unfortunately, they have scrapped this duty in order to attain the best political deal they could find. They have chosen to make hostile state agencies happy rather than uphold their duty to consider the best available science. The previous recovery planning science team clearly identified what these wolves need, yet those findings are being ignored.
• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to hand the management of the Mexican gray wolf recovery program to the states who have done everything in their power to sabotage the species’ recovery. Arizona game and fish ran the program for six years previously, and in that time they managed to reduce the number of wolves in the wild. The serious genetic problems the wild population is in is a direct result of the mismanagement by Arizona. If this plan is not dramatically changed, it will very likely drive the lobo to extinction.
• The Mexican gray wolf draft recovery plan includes reckless delisting criteria for the critically endangered wolf. The plan allows for delisting the wolf after twenty-two wolves released from captivity reach reproductive age. But just reaching reproductive age does not ensure their genes will be contributed to the wild population. We have seen that poaching is a major threat to individual wild wolves and if these wolves are killed before they breed, the species will still be removed from the endangered species list.
• Mexican gray wolves will need connectivity between wild populations in order to recover. Connectivity would be easy were they allowed to establish in the two additional suitable habitats in the U.S., the Grand Canyon area and the Southern Rockies. Instead, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to restrict the wolves to south of Interstate 40 and to establish a second population in Mexico. There is a barrier along large sections of the international border, talk of extending that barrier to an impenetrable wall, and the last wolf who crossed that border was removed from the wild.
• The federal agency charged with recovery of the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf has decided to put the onus of recovery on Mexico, despite the fact that this could wipe the species out. Mexico does not have nearly as much public land for the wolf, they have very little enforcement to deal with poaching, and as species shift north in response to climate change Mexican habitat will become even less suitable for wolves.
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, under 250 words for the AZ Daily Sun and 150 for the Santa Fe New Mexican
• 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.
DO MORE FOR LOBOS - COMMENT DEADLINE IS AUGUST 29
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan is available for public comment until August 29, and there will be four public meetings this summer in New Mexico and Arizona:
- July 18, 6-9 p.m. Northern Arizona University, Prochnow Auditorium, South Knowles Drive, Flagstaff, AZ
- July 19, 6-9 p.m. Hon-Dah Resort, Casino Banquet Hall, 777 AZ–260, Pinetop, AZ
- July 20, 6-9 p.m. Ralph Edwards Auditorium, Civic Center, 400 West Fourth, Truth or Consequences, NM
- July 22, 2-5 p.m. Crowne Plaza Albuquerque, 1901 University Boulevard NE,
To review and comment on the draft revised recovery plan and related documents, visit www.regulations.gov and enter the docket number FWS–R2–ES–2017–0036 in the search bar.