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Court Overturns State's Obstructionist Attempt to Block Endangered Wolf Releases
SANTA FE, NM— Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit overturned a lower court’s decision preventing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from releasing critically imperiled Mexican wolves into the State of New Mexico. The decision allows necessary recovery efforts to proceed unimpeded by the State’s refusal to provide state permits to the federal agency to release captive-bred lobos in accordance with their duties under the Endangered Species Act.
“Today’s ruling is monumental in upholding the integrity and ambition of the Endangered Species Act,” said Kelly Nokes, carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “We are encouraged by the court’s refusal to allow a minority of anti-carnivore political interests to hold the endangered lobo hostage and urge the Service to immediately resume much needed releases so that Mexican wolves may truly recover.”
With fewer than 113 Mexican wolves roaming the wild at last count, the government needs to release endangered lobos in order to foster the eventual recovery of the species across their native Southwest habitat. Facing threats from illegal killing, politically based habitat restrictions, and an ongoing genetic crisis, releasing additional Mexican wolves from the captive-bred population is now, more than ever, critical to ensuring the species is recovered in the United States.
Driven to near extinction by the 1970s, the Mexican wolf is one of North America’s rarest mammals, receiving federal Endangered Species Act protections in 1976. The entire wild lobo population is comprised of descendants of the last seven Mexican wolves, which were taken into captivity in the 1990s to form the base for recovery efforts. The species faces a dire genetic crisis as a result. Added to that, last year was a record-breaking year for Mexican wolf deaths, with 13 lobos killed. This year is faring little better thus far, with two wolf pup deaths documented in the last month alone.
Despite the species’ imperiled status, the State of New Mexico sued the federal government in May 2016 to block the release of Mexican wolves into the state, claiming the Service was required to obtain state approval first. A U.S. District Court in New Mexico granted the state a preliminary injunction, ordering the federal government to halt the release of lobos in New Mexico pending an outcome in the lawsuit. The Service appealed the preliminary injunction to the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, resulting in today’s favorable ruling. Represented by attorneys at Defenders of Wildlife, WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance intervened on the federal government’s behalf.
“This ruling is critical to our fight for the survival and recovery of critically imperiled Mexican wolves across their Southwestern homelands,” said Nokes. “It demonstrates that together science and the law will rightfully overcome misguided anti-carnivore rhetoric and ensure that this and future human generations will have the opportunity to enjoy Mexican wolves in the wild.”