In a win for nature fans, the United States District Court in Arizona struck down a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service/USFWS) management rule for the endangered Mexican grey wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), finding that it “provides only for short-term survival of the species and fails to further the long-term recovery of the Mexican wolf in the wild.”
The litigation was filed by a coalition of conservation organizations including the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Environmental Law Center, WildEarth Guardians, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, and Friends of Animals. The suit took aim at a 2015 rule, which decided the fate of the Blue Range Pack in eastern Arizona — the only wild population of Mexican wolves in the U.S.
On April 2, the Court ruled, in making its determinations, the Service ignored the “best available information” for preserving the long-term survival of the species. Specifically, the Court called the agency’s allowance for a single population of 300-325 animals to be “arbitrary and capricious,” saying the agency ignored studies showing the Blue Range Pack is of poor genetic diversity and too far from other packs in Mexico to successfully propagate.
Furthermore, the Court found that the Service’s decision to allow agency personnel to kill wolves for management objectives didn’t contain “adequate protection” for the species.
“Mexican wolves have struggled for almost a century, largely because of human efforts to eradicate the species,” said Judy Calman, staff attorney for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “These embattled, iconic animals shouldn’t also have to struggle against the very agency tasked with saving them, and we’re extremely pleased that the court agrees.”
The Court said the Service chose not to take the best science into account when it crafted the rule, and explained this was central in its ruling, stating in its opinion that the USFWS “misapplied and misinterpreted [scientific] findings in such a manner that the recovery of the species is compromised.”
Part of what the Court saw as an “egregious oversight” involved the Service using findings from 1998 instead of more recent science better representing the Mexican wolf’s current plight.
“This is not a case in which the agency was required to choose between conflicting scientific evidence,” United States District Judge Jennifer G. Zipps wrote. “On the contrary, the best available science consistently shows that recovery requires consideration of long-term impacts, particularly the subspecies’ genetic health.”
“Unfortunately, politics supplants wildlife biology in key parts of the Service’s Mexican wolf reintroduction rule,” said Matthew Bishop with the Western Environmental Law Center. “It’s amazing we had to go to court to prove that population caps, more killing, and less territory harms Mexican wolves, but the court made the right decision today.”
The 2015 rule will remain in place until the Service drafts a new one. The 2017 Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, currently being litigated, was built partially on assumptions from the 2015 rule. It now seems possible that Monday’s ruling could factor into that lawsuit as well.