Lawsuit challenges federal plan for Mexican gray wolves

Wildlife advocates say arbitrary caps on population and habitat won’t allow for full recovery of the species

A Mexican gray wolf in the wilds of the Blue Range wolf recovery area. Photo courtesy of the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team.
A Mexican gray wolf in the wilds of the Blue Range wolf recovery area. Photo courtesy of the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Wildlife advocates say a federal plan to cap the Mexican gray wolf population at 300 to 325 animals won’t ensure the long-term survival of the species, and they’re going to court to make sure the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adopts policies that give endangered Mexican gray wolves a fair shot at recovery in their historic U.S. range.

At issue is a final federal rule issued early this year that would likely prevent the wolves from recolonizing suitable habitat in northern Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah.

“Unfortunately, politics supplants wildlife biology in key parts of the USFWS Mexican gray wolf plan,” said John Mellgren, the Western Environmental Law Center attorney representing the advocacy groups in the lawsuit. “Our goal in this case is to put the science back into the management of Mexican wolves in the U.S.”

“Banishing Mexican wolves from their native habitats to appease political interests is the latest mistake in the Service’s long history of mismanagement of the species’ recovery,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “The only wild population of Mexican wolves is clearly essential to the species’ survival and recovery.”

Federal officials have said they’re trying to balance Mexican gray wolf recovery with the concerns of communities in the region, who will only tolerate so many wolves on the landscape.

According to the lawsuit, the USFWS’s final rule, issued in January, is not based on the best available science, which suggests that at least 750 wolves spread across three populations are needed to sustain the population in the long-term. By labeling the only Mexican wolves remaining in the wild as “nonessential,”the  USFWS prevents implementation of vital protections that are necessary to truly recover the species, the lawsuit claims.

“Mexican wolves have struggled for almost a century because of human efforts to eradicate the species,” said Judy Calman, staff attorney for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “These embattled, iconic animals shouldn’t also have to struggle against the very agency tasked with saving them.”

The Mexican gray wolf is the smallest, rarest and most genetically distinct subspecies of gray wolf. The species was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1978, but recovery efforts have largely foundered because USFWS has yet to do what science shows is necessary to restore the species.

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