Conservation advocates say lack of releases is threatening genetic diversity
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — Wildlife advocates are going to court to try and boost recovery efforts for the Mexican gray wolf in Arizona and New Mexico by forcing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to release more of the animals into the wild.
Specifically, the lawsuit challenges the agency’s failure to respond to a 2004 petition calling for implementation of sweeping reforms in the management of the Mexican gray wolf population, which has grown by a scant three animals over the past eight years, leaving only 58 wolves in the wild today.
In 2001, a panel of scientists called for an immediate reduction in the number of Mexican gray wolves removed from the wild, as well as an increase in the number released. But faced with intense local opposition to wolf restoration, the agency has failed to act on the recommendations.
“I’m appalled that more than 10 years have passed since a scientific panel convened by the Fish and Wildlife Service itself recommended dramatic changes in the Mexican wolf recovery program, yet the agency has failed to implement any of them,” said Michael Robinson, a wolf restoration advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The only wild Mexican wolf population on Earth is stagnant, and losing irreplaceable genetic diversity, because the Fish and Wildlife Service is ignoring the pleas of scientists and stalling on vital reforms.”
The Center’s 2004 petition requested implementation of three changes recommended by the 2001 science team, including allowing wolves to live outside the narrowly defined recovery zone; providing direct reintroduction of wolves into the extensive Gila, New Mexico portion of the recovery zone; and requiring livestock operators to remove livestock carcasses that attract wolves and make them more likely to depredate livestock.
In 2006 the Center sued the agency to compel an answer to the petition. In response, the Fish and Wildlife Service pledged to consider the three changes in an upcoming rule-change process, and the case was deemed moot. The agency, however, has not proceeded with rulemaking.
“The Mexican wolf is a beautiful animal that’s essential to restoring the natural balance,” said Robinson. “Our government’s negligence may yet doom the Mexican wolf to extinction, so we are taking action in court before it’s too late.”
In the absence of these reforms, the recovery program has faltered with only six breeding pairs and 58 wolves presently in the wild — well short of the agency’s projection of 18 breeding pairs and 102 wolves by the end of 2006, with an interim goal of at least 100 wolves.
This is, in part, because Fish and Wildlife has continuously removed wolves from the wild that established homes outside the recovery zone or because wolves have been killed by poachers or government agents, including the killing of wolves that had scavenged on unremoved carcasses of cattle and horses that died of causes unrelated to wolves.
Had releases into the extensive habitat in the Gila been permitted, managers would likely have released more wolves from captivity. Recent research shows that because of the low number of animals, the population’s genetic diversity has been compromised through inbreeding, likely leading to small litter sizes and reduced pup-survival rates.
The Center is represented by attorneys from its staff and the Washington, D.C.-based, public-interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal.