The Rewilding Institute
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 22, 2009
Dave Parsons, Wildlife Biologist, (505) 275-1944 / (505) 908-0468
Dr. Rich Fredrickson, Faculty Affiliate, University of Montana (406) 243-5476
ALBUQUERQUE — Sam Hamilton, the newly appointed director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will have his work cut out for him, according to conservation and wildlife advocates in the Southwest, following years of mismanagement and abuse of science by the previous administration. The groups are calling on the new director to put development of a modern, science-based program to recover critically endangered Mexican gray wolves at the top of his priority list. In his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works today Mr. Hamilton affirmed that agency decisions would be “grounded in the best available science.”
Thirty-three years after receiving protection under the Endangered Species Act, the Mexican gray wolf remains the most endangered mammal in North America and the most endangered subspecies of gray wolf in the world. The latest population count — conducted in early 2009 — found just 52 wolves and two breeding pairs in the wild.
“We hope Director Hamilton will make the Mexican wolf recovery program a top priority,” said wildlife biologist Dave Parsons, former Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Scientists and the conservation community are ready to help him make it happen.” Parsons is part of a network of conservation and wildlife organizations committed to helping Mexican gray wolves thrive in the wilds of the Southwest.
“Mexican wolves have what it takes to thrive in the wild,” said Parsons. “They’ve formed packs, had pups and successfully hunted elk and deer. But as long as the Service pursues its aggressive practice of trapping and shooting wolves, the population will continue to stagnate or decline.” In light of the population’s failure to expand, the American Society of Mammalogists has called on the Service to stop trapping and shooting wolves until the population reaches a short term benchmark of at least 100 wolves in the designated recovery area.
In the early 1980s, Mexican wolves came within seven animals of going extinct, but were rescued through captive breeding. Today over 300 Mexican wolves live in captivity, but the clock on genetic viability for the Mexican wolf is ticking.
“The fitness of Mexican wolf populations is now irrevocably linked with their genetic composition,” said Dr. Rich Fredrickson, a conservation geneticist at the University of Montana and expert on the genetic viability of Mexican gray wolves. “The Fish and Wildlife Service needs to move quickly and act decisively to rescue the genetic integrity of wild Mexican wolves. The Service has ignored the warnings of genetics experts and wasted valuable opportunities. With the new administration’s restored commitment to scientific integrity, I am hopeful that the new director will place an immediate priority on the development and implementation of a genetic management plan for wild Mexican wolves.”
Parsons, Fredrickson and other wildlife experts are calling for immediate implementation of a science-based genetic management plan for the wild population, a new recovery plan for Mexican wolves — one that includes specific benchmarks that lead to full recovery — and more innovative ideas for preventing conflicts between wolves and livestock. An important first step will be the cessation of trapping and shooting wolves as a means of addressing conflicts that arise between livestock and wolves — described in the Service’s “Standard Operating Procedure 13.”
“We have decades of evidence that trapping and shooting wolves isn’t the road to recovery,” said Parsons. “Mexican wolves lived in balance with nature for thousands of years, and they are important for maintaining healthy ecosystems. Living with wolves is part of life in the West. We should be using our heads instead of guns and traps to find solutions that work for both wolves and people.”