‘Recovery’ Plan for Mexican Gray Wolf Further Threatens this Endangered Species
Update, 11/29/2017: On Nov. 29, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service released the long-overdue recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves. The plan charts a course for extinction rather than recovery, cutting off wolf access to vital recovery habitat and failing to respond to mounting genetic threats to the species. “It’s a ‘recovery plan’ in name only,” said Heidi McIntosh, managing attorney at Earthjustice. More details.
Original post, 07/17/2017: In his essay Thinking Like A Mountain, legendary conservationist Aldo Leopold describes a time in his youth when he “had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf.” But as he watched the “fierce green fire” fade from a dying wolf’s eyes, he began to doubt the wisdom of that philosophy.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) helped bring the wolves described in Leopold’s essay—Mexican gray wolves, the lobo of Southwestern lore—back from the brink of extinction. This critically endangered species almost vanished from the face of the earth in the mid-20th century as a result of human persecution. The entire population of Mexican wolves alive today descends from just seven individuals that were captured and placed into a captive breeding program before the species was exterminated from the wild.
After a near 30-year absence from the landscape, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in 1998 released 11 captive-reared Mexican gray wolves into the Blue Range of Arizona and New Mexico. Efforts to re-establish the species in the wild have foundered, largely because of the lack of an effective blueprint for recovery as well as local opposition to recovery efforts. As a result, the Mexican wolf remains one of the most endangered mammals in North America.
In an effort to turn that tide, conservationists led by Earthjustice recently brought a successful lawsuit to force the FWS into preparing a long-delayed recovery plan for the Mexican gray wolf. Unfortunately, the Draft Recovery Plan issued late last month by the FWS is riddled with shortcomings that will hinder—if not outright prevent—Mexican wolf recovery.
It is not yet too late, however. The Fish and Wildlife Service has the opportunity to correct course and you have an opportunity to influence this process. The agency is accepting public comments on the Draft Recovery Plan until August 29, 2017. Comments can be submitted in writing or in person at a series of public meetings.
Flaws in the draft recovery plan include:
- Too few wolves, too small an area: The plan calls for the establishment of two isolated Mexican wolf populations: one in the current U.S. recovery area and one in Mexico. This runs counter to recommendations in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, which call for at least three interconnected populations of Mexican wolves extending into northern Arizona and New Mexico and southern Utah and Colorado.
- Too reliant on recovery in Mexico: Mexican wolf recovery under the draft plan is heavily dependent on successful reintroduction efforts in Mexico—despite the lack of appropriate habitat for the wolves there.
- Genetic threats: The FWS acknowledges the myriad genetic challenges faced by the Mexican wolf as a result of the small number of founders. However, it fails to account for the genetic degradation of the captive and wild populations that has already occurred and exacerbates the problem by allowing for additional genetic erosion.
- Insufficient releases: Given the dire genetic state of the wild Mexican wolf population, it is critical that the agency release captive individuals into the wild to enrich the gene pool. While FWS acknowledges this, it also states that population growth will be driven primarily by natural reproduction rather than releases. This reliance on natural reproduction—which will occur between ever-more-related individuals (like siblings)—will exacerbate existing genetic challenges and hinder recovery.
- Relying on the states to coordinate releases: Mexican wolf recovery requires carefully planned releases of captive wolves to infuse the wild population with adequate genetic diversity. Rather than developing an informed release schedule, however, the draft plan gives total control of wolf releases to the states of Arizona and New Mexico and the Mexican government. This is extremely problematic when these states have been actively hostile to Mexican wolf recovery—with New Mexico even filing a lawsuit to prevent such releases.
Without a scientifically grounded recovery plan, there exists the very real possibility that this majestic species will go extinct. By informing the FWS of where the “recovery” plan falls short, we can encourage the agency to improve the plan and ensure that, in the words of Leopold, the lobo’s “deep chesty bawl” again “echoes from rimrock to rimrock, rolls down the mountain, and fades into the far blackness of the night.”
The public comment period is open through August 29, 2017.
Comments can be submitted electronically or in hard copy to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2017-0036, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.
Public meetings where you can provide input on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan will be held at these times and locations:
- July 18, 2017 (6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.): Northern Arizona University, Prochnow Auditorium, South Knowles Drive, Flagstaff, AZ 86001
- July 19, 2017 (6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.): Hon-Dah Resort, Casino Banquet Hall, 777 AZ-260, Pinetop, AZ 85935.
- July 20, 2017 (6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.): Ralph Edwards Auditorium, Civic Center, 400 West Fourth, Truth or Consequences, NM 87901
- July 22, 2017 (2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.): Crowne Plaza Albuquerque, 1901 University Boulevard NE., Albuquerque, NM 87102