ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A rule issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2015 that expanded the endangered Mexican gray wolf’s habitat by millions of acres has been remanded to the service for further revision, a federal judge in Arizona decided Monday.
The Revision to the Regulations for the Nonessential Experimental Population of the Mexican Wolf describes procedures for the wolf’s release, population area and management in the United States. But environmental groups felt it did not do enough to save the species.
“The bottom line is that this rule only gave the wolf a short-term chance of survival,” said Bryan Bird, director of Defenders of Wildlife’s Southwest Program.
Several groups sued over the rule, arguing it violated the Endangered Species Act and did not provide for the recovery of the wolf.
While the rule did expand the wolf’s habitat, it also eased restrictions on killing the animals if livestock is preyed upon, capped the number of wolves in the U.S. at 325, and did not allow wolves north of Interstate 40 in New Mexico and Arizona.
Many aspects of the rule directly contradicted the earlier recommendations of top wildlife biologists, the groups argued.
Among those was a recommendation that three interconnected U.S. populations containing a total of at least 750 wolves were necessary for the species’ recovery.
A group of wolf biologists commented to FWS in 2014 expressing concerns over the way their data were being used.
“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,” U.S. District Court Judge Jennifer Zipps wrote in the decision. “To ignore this dire warning was an egregious oversight by the agency.”
Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said he is hopeful the new rule will include more of that scientific data.
“Part of the tragedy of this is Fish and Wildlife was told by some of the best biologists in the world how to do this right,” Robinson said. “And now they’re having to be retold.”
He said he also hopes FWS moves as expeditiously as possible to come up with the new rule.
“Time is not the friend of the Mexican wolf,” he said.
There are currently 114 Mexican wolves in the U.S.
The Service must now revise the rule and provide the court with a proposed deadline for completion within 30 days of the ruling.
FWS spokesman John Bradley said the agency is still in the process of reviewing the court’s decision and hasn’t determined a specific path forward yet.