The Mexican gray wolves currently in Arizona and New Mexico were reintroduced under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as a “10(j) population”. Misinformation about what the section 10(j) “experimental, non essential” status of wolves means has created some confusion and misunderstandings. The 10(j) population status is not a reflection on how important the species is, and it does not lessen the legal requirement for recovery.
The 10(j) rule is a provision under the ESA that allows for greater management flexibility of a reintroduced species, so long as those management actions are still in accordance with the ultimate recovery of the species. Basically every endangered species (at least 60 animals in the U.S., including Black footed-ferrets and California condors) that has been eradicated from all or part of its historic range and reintroduced is reintroduced as a 10(j) population. Mexican gray wolves were completely eradicated in the United States and only five wild Mexican wolves were found in Mexico from 1977 to 1980.
Wildlife that was not completely eradicated (and therefore not reintroduced), is listed as “endangered” or “threatened” as is the case with the Great Lakes population of wolves. 10(j) populations are still classified as “endangered” and guaranteed protection under the ESA.
There are a myriad of reasons why biologists decide to reintroduce a specific endangered species with the 10(j) status. One reason is that this status does not require “critical habitat” (legal determination of habitat considered essential to the species’ conservation) designation, which makes it easier for those species to be put back out into the wild with less interference with private property, and therefore less public opposition to the reintroduction. Another reason, as with the California condor, is that they often ingest lead bullet fragments from carcasses or gut piles left in the woods by hunters, so biologists have to catch, handle, and apply emergency chelation treatments for lead poisoning in order to save their lives. The 10(j) status allows biologists the flexibility to handle the species without an additional level of permitting required under just the “endangered” status in emergency situations.
You can read the FAQs on the AZGFD Mexican gray wolf page for their description of an “experimental population” and the protection of “nonessential experimental designation” as it relates specifically to Mexican wolves here. In addition, you can read the actual 1998 final rule by the USFWS in the federal register that explains their reasons for reintroducing Mexican wolves under the 10(j) designation at that time here.
The USFWS recently announced that it is reconsidering the status for Mexican wolves (as evidence suggests, the current designation has not furthered Mexican wolf recovery in the wild as it is supposed to under the ESA). The federal register announcement of that review can be found here.
Contributed by Emily Nelson (B.S. in Biology — Fish and Wildlife Management, M.S. Biology — Wildlife Conservation emphasis). Emily has worked with many different species of wildlife over the last 8 years and is currently the coordinator for the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project based in Flagstaff, AZ.
Photo credit: Emily Nelson reading Aldo Leopold, courtesy of Billie Hughes