A federal judge in Arizona ruled wildlife managers have not done enough to protect a subspecies of wolf endemic to the American Southwest.
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Jennifer Zipps granted a coalition of green organizations summary judgment, saying that the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife failed to implement a program that would assist the recovery of the Mexican Gray Wolf.
“The best available science consistently shows that recovery requires consideration of long-term impacts, particularly the subspecies’ genetic health,” Zipps said. “Moreover, this case is unique in that the same scientists that are cited by the agency publicly communicated their concern that the agency misapplied and misinterpreted findings in such a manner that the recovery of the species is compromised.”
The Mexican Gray Wolf is nearly extinct in the United States, pushed to the brink by mostly hunters and livestock owners. About 100 wolves remain in the Southwest according to the most recent counts.
In the 1980s, the wolf population in the United States was virtually gone. A few individuals remained in northern Mexico.
Soon after, the two countries undertook a recovery plan aimed at bringing back the population of a distinct subspecies to the 250-300 range. To do this, the federal government decided to raise some of the wolves in captivity and then release some of them into the wild — or into a specified 150,000-area in the Blue Range which straddles the Arizona and New Mexico border.
The effort proved difficult, mostly due to illegal shootings of wolves by livestock owners and hunters. It also proved unpopular with local residents.
In response to local pressure, the forest service attempted to update its management plan that expanded the means by which locals could legally kill wolves.
The Center for Biological Diversity and other wildlife advocacy organizations filed suit immediately, saying the agencies had the obligation to follow the provisions of the Endangered Species Act, regardless of the public blowback.