U.S. government and state officials intend to work together to recover an endangered species of wolves that once roamed the America Southwest, with a new signed agreement.
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish announced the agreement with Arizona and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday. It's aimed at getting Mexican gray wolves to the point where they can eventually be removed from the endangered species list.
As part of the effort, the federal agency plans to work with state wildlife managers to determine the timing, location and the circumstances for releasing wolves into the wild in Arizona and New Mexico.
"In this act of good faith, we look forward to strengthening our partnership with the Service," New Mexico Game and Fish Director Alexandra Sandoval said in a statement.
New Mexico has long had complaints about the way the wolf reintroduction program has been managed. The chief concern focused on the failure over decades by the federal government to revamp the recovery plan for the wolves.
In 2015, the state refused to give Fish and Wildlife a permit to release more of the predators. The federal agency decided to release them anyway, citing an urgent need to expand the wild population to prevent inbreeding. New Mexico went to court, and a federal judge temporarily blocked further releases while the dispute was pending.
The government appealed, and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in early 2017 lifted the injunction, clearing the way for releases.
Fish and Wildlife, under a separate court order stemming from legal challenges brought by environmentalists, finally published a new recovery plan last year and the memorandum of agreement signed this week indicates a willingness to end the court battle.
Aside from the outdated recovery plan, much of the legal wrangling has centered how much influence states have when it comes to endangered species and federal actions.
Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that has pushed for more wolf releases, said federal law trumps state law and that Fish and Wildlife has a responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to recover the animal.
"Having won the legal rulings issued thus far, the Fish and Wildlife Service is now giving up the game," Robinson said.
Regional Fish and Wildlife officials did not immediately comment on the latest agreement, but they acknowledged in February the challenges of re-establishing the species and that working with state partners would be key.
There are at least 114 wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona. The number reflects on-the-ground data collected over the winter along with aerial surveys done in January and February.
Under the recently adopted recovery plan, management of the wolves in the U.S. would eventually revert to the state wildlife agencies but not until the population averages 320 wolves over an eight-year period. In each of the last three years, the population would have to exceed the average to ensure the species doesn't backslide.
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 remains the sole authority on releasing wolves, as spelled out in the Endangered Species Act. They cannot relinquish this responsibility.
- Cross-fostering wolves is only one tool in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s toolbox and cannot be relied upon solely to save the Mexican gray wolf from extinction. Releases of captive adult wolves are desperately needed this year to save the species.
- The genetic crisis Mexican gray wolves are in is expected to result in lower pup survival rates, which we are now seeing. The only way to prevent the species from going extinct is to rapidly improve the genetics of the wild population by releasing adult wolves from captivity. Without releasing adults, the wild population could crash very quickly due to its small size and inbreeding.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will not see the 10% annual population growth of Mexican gray wolves they claim they want to achieve with the methods they are employing. Their plan to recover the species without ever releasing an adult wolf to the wild again is preposterous and in bad faith.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must get serious about curbing illegal killings of endangered Mexican gray wolves by increasing public acceptance of wolves, increasing penalties to dissuade wolf killers, and by accepting contemporary research on negative impacts of removing wolves who depredate.
- 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, yet the species is still struggling to remain viable.
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 150 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.