The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could soon derail years of conservation efforts for one of America’s most iconic and important predators: Mexican gray wolves or “El Lobo.”
Fish and Wildlife is considering legislation that would prevent wolves from reaching essential habitats and increasing the population to healthy levels. The plan — disguised as a recovery effort — goes against the recommendations of wildlife scientists and advocates. Fish and Wildlife should abandon this plan and opt for one that enables habitat access and boosts population growth to stable levels.
Thousands of Mexican gray wolves once roamed the wilds of New Mexico, Texas and Arizona, as well as Northern Mexico. By the 1970s, the wolves were driven to near extinction in the United States due to massive habitat loss and ruthless, deliberate hunting measures. By 1976, the species was placed on the endangered species list, and the last seven remaining wolves were captured from the wild to ensure that the species would not become extinct.
The wolf made a small comeback in 1998. Thanks to wildlife advocates, descendants from the seven remaining Mexican gray wolves were slowly reintroduced to parts of Arizona. Now, there are only some 113 Mexican gray wolves roaming free in the Southwest.
To aid the ongoing recovery, Fish and Wildlife recently drafted a plan that establishes criteria that, when met, will allow the removal of Mexican gray wolves from the service’s list of endangered and threatened wildlife.
Here’s the problem: The proposed “recovery” plan falls short in helping the wolves.
For starters, the plan ignores scientific recommendations for stable population growth. Scientists dedicated to wolf recovery in the region have repeatedly concluded that the population needs to total at least 750 wolves in three interconnected U.S. locations to ensure survival. Fish and Wildlife’s current recovery plan would have them removed from their list of endangered and threatened wildlife once they number 320 wolves in just two nonconnected populations. That’s not even half of the suggested total.
What’s more, the plan allows for artificial barriers that would prevent wolves from interbreeding. The plan prevents wolves from dispersing outside of the Mexican wolf experimental population area. This means wolves are unable to expand throughout the Grand Canyon, and to parts in New Mexico and Colorado.
Unfortunately, some of the most suitable habitat areas occur outside Fish and Wildlife’s designated Mexican wolf experimental population area. By depriving wolves of these great habitats, Fish and Wildlife makes it harder for the species to thrive in new environments and to breed with one another. A recovery plan that discourages population growth is no recovery at all.
By accepting the recovery plan as is, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is abandoning gray wolf recovery in the Southwest. After once obliterating the population to near extinction, humans owe it to El Lobo to stand up against this reckless plan.
Jacy Gomez is a communications specialist based in Washington, D.C., and a former congressional staffer.
This Op-Ed was published in the Santa Fe New Mexican.
The comment period is over, but you can read the comments that were submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service HERE.
Links to the Draft Recovery Plan and supporting documentation are provided below.
Additional Documentation Referenced in Draft Plan:
Draft Biological Report for the Mexican Wolf, May 1, 2017 version
Mexican Wolf Habitat Suitability Analysis in Historical Range in Southwestern US and Mexico, April 2017 version
5 peer reviews received on the above documents (Peer reviews are anonymous at this time but FWS will provide peer reviewers names and affiliations when the recovery plan and biological report have been finalized.)
READ MORE: New Lobo ‘Recovery’ Plan Puts Politics Before Science Risks Recovery of Highly Endangered Mexican Gray Wolves