Saving the Endangered Mexican Gray Wolf

Mexican gray wolves are at serious risk of extinction. The loss of a top predator can have cataclysmic impact on the health of the entire ecosystem.

Case Overview

The Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi)—the “lobo” of Southwestern lore—is the most genetically distinct lineage of wolves in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the most endangered mammals in North America. By 1980, hunting and trapping caused the extinction of lobos in the wild, with only a handful remaining in captivity. In 1998, the wolves were reintroduced into the wild as part of a federal reintroduction program under the Endangered Species Act.

Today in the U.S., there is a single wild population comprising only 97 individuals, all descendants of just seven wild founders of a captive breeding program. These wolves are threatened by illegal killings, legal removals due to conflicts with livestock, and a lack of genetic diversity.

The Service has never written or implemented a legally sufficient Mexican gray wolf recovery plan. The Service’s most recent recovery team has done extensive, rigorous work to determine what needs to be done to save the Mexican gray wolf. Recovery team scientists, agree that in order to survive, lobos require the establishment of at least three linked populations. The habitats capable of supporting the two additional populations are in the Grand Canyon ecoregion and in northern New Mexico/southern Colorado.

A coalition of wolf conservation groups, environmental organizations and a retired federal wolf biologist sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for repeated failures over the last four decades to develop a valid recovery plan for the imperiled Mexican gray wolf, one of the most endangered mammals in North America. Earthjustice represented Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, retired Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator David R. Parsons, the Endangered Wolf Center and the Wolf Conservation Center.

In a separate case, Earthjustice, on behalf of Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife, also filed a lawsuit fighting provisions in a federal rule that unjustifiably cap wolf population at 325, preclude recovery north of I-40, and loosen restrictions on killing wolves.

A Mexican gray wolf.
Today, there is a single wild population comprising just over 100 individuals, all descendants of just seven wild founders of a captive breeding program. These wolves are threatened by illegal killings, legal removals due to conflicts with livestock, and a lack of genetic diversity. (Photo courtesy of Don Burkett)

Case Updates

July 12, 2022 Document

Mexican Wolf Management Rule Complaint

The Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife, represented by Earthjustice in the suit, argue that Fish and Wildlife Service’s new rule fails to respond to ongoing genetic threats to Mexican gray wolves, sets an inadequate population target, and cuts wolves off from essential recovery habitat.

July 12, 2022 Press Release

Conservation Groups Sue Fish and Wildlife Service Over Inadequate Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Efforts

New management rule sets target of 320 wolves in a single area of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico

A Mexican gray wolf stands in the snow.
October 15, 2021 Update: Victory

Court Victory Renews Hope for Survival of Lobos

Our legal win forces the US Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a real plan to stop human killing of Mexican gray wolves.