The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s newly released recovery plan for endangered Mexican gray wolves is one that sportsmen and state wildlife managers “can live with,” said Tom Mackin, the Flagstaff-area representative with the Arizona Wildlife Federation, which supports hunters, anglers and wildlife-related recreation.
The plan’s goal to establish a sustainable population of 320 animals in Arizona and New Mexico is one “we think would be tolerated from a social standpoint,” Mackin said.
Reactions to the plan were much different from organizations across the Southwest that are advocates of wolf recovery. A group of 10 issued swift criticisms of the recovery document.
Among them is Emily Renn, who heads the Flagstaff-based Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project. The nonprofit has worked for more than a decade to return wolves to a wider range in Arizona. The recovery plan’s biggest downfall is its limitation on wolf recovery habitat to south of Interstate-40, Renn said.
“Our organization was created because all the science said this was excellent wolf habitat,” Renn said, referring to areas north of the highway.
“For the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to completely ignore that in the future recovery of this species is really arbitrary because there is so much science that supports it.”
A nine-member science advisory group in 2012 produced a draft recovery plan for Mexican wolves that recommended recovery habitat extend into northern New Mexico, southern Colorado and the Grand Canyon region, but it was never finalized.
The recovery plan released Wednesday estimates 70 wolves will need to be released from captivity to achieve genetic diversity targets. To reach that number, federal managers will focus “a lot” on the tactic of cross fostering as opposed to the release of adult wolves into the wild, Sherry Barrett, the Mexican wolf recovery coordinator, said during a media call Wednesday.
Cross fostering involves taking young wolf pups born in captivity and placing them with wild wolf litters born around the same time so they are raised in the wild. The Arizona Game and Fish Department has been vocal about its support for cross fostering and in 2015 voted to stop the release of captive-raised adult wolves.
But to achieve recovery of the species, it’s not enough to depend on only cross-fostered pups, Renn said.
“There are still genetically valuable adults wolves in the captive population,” Renn said. “It’s a matter of getting the most valuable wolves into the wild population and not eliminating any release option to be able to do that."
But adult wolves released from captivity tend to cause more problems, which makes cross-fostering a better alternative, Mackin said.
Expanding wolf habitat north of Interstate-40 also poses potential complications with tribal boundaries in northern Arizona and northern New Mexico, Mackin said in support of the federal plan's current habitat boundary.
He was less supportive of the recovery plan’s $180 million price tag.
“I guess what they're presenting is the Cadillac plan or perhaps the Mercedes plan, but perhaps we need the Chevrolet or Subaru plan to see what we can do to successfully bring these animals up to a delisting level but not spend ($180 million),” Mackin said.
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 is giving too much control over 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 recovery plan includes reckless delisting criteria for the critically endangered wolf. One criteria for delisitng states twenty-two wolves released from captivity must 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 restricting the wolves to south of Interstate 40 and planning for no natural connectivity with the 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
• 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.
Learn More About the Flawed Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan
~ Read the finalized Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan HERE.
~ Scientists and Wolf Biologists speak out against Recovery Plan
~ Below is the Draft Plan that was released in June of 2017 and "supporting" documents.
Additional Documentation Referenced in Draft Plan: