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Feds Take Two Steps Forward One Step Back on Mexican Wolf Recovery

Wolves Would Have More Room to Roam; be at Greater Risk of Shooting and Trapping

DENVER, COLO. — Mexican gray wolves, the most imperiled North American mammal, received a mixed bag from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) proposed rule governing the species’ recovery. Today, the Service published its proposed revised rule for management of the Mexican gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act and accompanying draft environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). If finalized, the rule will expand the size of the wolves’ available range, but liberalize the exceptions to the prohibitions on harming or killing wolves.

“The proposed changes are two steps forward and one step back for the Mexican gray wolf,” said Drew Kerr, carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “The Service gives the wolves more room to roam but loosens protections against their greatest threats.”

By the 1970s, Mexican gray wolves, native to the American southwest, were nearly extinct. The species clung to existence through small and genetically impoverished captive populations. After listing the Mexican gray wolf as endangered in 1976, the Service released a Mexican gray wolf recovery plan in 1982, which called for the establishment of a viable self-sustaining population of at least one hundred wild wolves. Recovery plans are supposed to be updated every five years, but the 1982 plan remains in effect and unchanged to this day. The Service drafted but shelved a revised recovery plan in 2012.

In 1998, the Service released eleven captive Mexican gray wolves as an experimental wild population with significantly watered down Endangered Species Act protections. After over thirty years, only approximately 83 Mexican gray wolves roam the U.S., far below the minimum recovery goal. Lobos, confined to a small remnant of their historic range, suffer from depressed genetics resulting in smaller litter sizes and decreased pup survival, heavy handed management for livestock depredations, illegal shootings and trapping, and vehicle strikes.

Under the Service’s proposed revisions, the Mexican gray wolf recovery area would expand from the United States—Mexico border in the south to I-40 in the north, and from the Arizona—California border in the west to the New Mexico—Texas border in the east. Within that area, the zones where the government could release or relocate wolves would also expand. However, throughout the region, the livestock industry and state wildlife agencies would have greater leeway to kill wolves they see as threatening livestock profits and hunter access to wild game populations.

“The Service is again failing to do what is necessary to ensure Mexican gray wolves recover,” said Kerr. “This plan addresses some of the threats by expanding the range, but makes others worse by liberalizing the livestock industry’s and state game managers’ ability to kill wolves. The Service is still gambling with the future of the species.”

The Service recently released an additional six Mexican gray wolves to the wild. However, those newly freed wolves, and the rest of their non-captive brethren may face more bullets, traps, and snares if the Service’s proposed rule revisions remain as drafted.

Problematically, the Service also coupled the proposed revised rule for Mexican gray wolves to its proposal to delist the gray wolf throughout North America. Though roundly criticized by conservationists and the independent scientific peer review panel, the Service has not withdrawn the proposed delisting. If the Service finalizes the rule and a court concludes the gray wolf delisting is fatally flawed, the status of the Mexican gray wolf will also be in legal limbo.

“We call on the Service to decouple the gray wolf delisting proposal from the Mexican gray wolf actions, and pull the 2012 recovery plan off the shelf,” said Kerr. “Rather than throwing scraps to the wolves, the Service needs to redouble efforts to recover and restore these iconic carnivores.”

The Service is accepting public comments on the proposed revised rule and draft environmental impact statement for the next sixty days. It will hold two hearings soliciting public testimony on August 11 in Pinetop, Arizona, and August 13 in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. The Service intends to finalize and implement the rule on January 12, 2015.


 

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