A coalition of wolf advocates recently filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s deeply flawed recovery plan for the Mexican gray wolf, one of North America’s most endangered mammals.
The lawsuit challenges the plan because it disregards the best available science in setting inadequate population goals, cuts off wolf access to vital recovery habitat, and fails to respond to mounting genetic threats to the species.
“Mexican wolves urgently need more room to roam, protection from killing, and more releases of wolves into the wild to improve genetic diversity, but the Mexican wolf recovery plan provides none of these things,” said Earthjustice attorney Elizabeth Forsyth, who is representing the wolf advocates. “The wolves will face an ongoing threat to their survival unless major changes are made.”
The Trump administration issued the long-awaited recovery plan in November 2017. The plan ignored comments submitted by tens of thousands of people—including leading wolf scientists—who challenged the quality of the science used and asked for stronger protections and more aggressive recovery efforts. The best available science indicates Mexican wolf recovery requires at least three connected populations totaling approximately 750 individuals; a carefully managed reintroduction effort that prioritizes improving the genetic health of the animals; and establishment of at least two additional population centers in the southern Rockies and the Grand Canyon region.
The new plan disregarded that scientific evidence by failing to consider additional recovery areas in the United States. Instead, it shifts much of the proposed recovery effort to México, where adequate wolf habitat is not available. The plan also calls for inadequate wolf numbers and fails to provide a sufficient reintroduction program to address genetic threats.
“Mexican wolves are vital to restoring natural balance in the Southwest, but they need a strong, science-based recovery plan to address urgent threats,” said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re gravely concerned that Trump’s plan would cut wolves off from habitats in the Grand Canyon and southern Rockies and remove protections while they’re still imperiled.”
“The final recovery plan leaves too much to chance and will likely result in relisting the Mexican wolf again sometime in the future,” said Bryan Bird, Southwest director for Defenders of Wildlife. “This is a political plan, not a recovery plan that meets the standards of the Endangered Species Act.”
“This is a national issue. Mexican wolves help keep the American landscape intact and healthy. Our hope is that this legal challenge can help Fish and Wildlife Service create the best plan possible, based on sound science, to help save this critically endangered wolf,” said Virginia Busch, Executive Director of the Endangered Wolf Center near St. Louis, Mo.
“It is deeply disappointing to have waited 35 years for a new plan that is fatally flawed in so many ways. The content of the plan was dictated primarily by state wildlife agencies known to be antithetical to meaningful recovery of Mexican wolves. High-value habitats suitable for wolf recovery in the United States have been excluded from consideration. And reliance on a foreign country, where the U.S. government has no authority, to achieve full recovery is fraught with risk for the long-term survival of our southwestern lobos,” said David Parsons, former Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“The Service is granting the very state agencies that have gone to extraordinary lengths to obstruct recovery too much authority over the time, location, and circumstances of wolf releases,” said Maggie Howell of the Wolf Conservation Center. “Too many opportunities, and quite frankly genetically irreplaceable wolves, have already been wasted under the states’ mismanagement—critically endangered lobos deserve better.”
The critically endangered Mexican gray wolf almost vanished from the face of the earth in the mid-20th century because 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.
As the result of a reintroduction program, today there is a single population of approximately 113 Mexican wolves existing in the wild in the United States, located in the Blue Range area of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. However, the reintroduced population suffers from high mortality due to illegal killing and compromised genetics because of its brush with extinction.
In 2014, Earthjustice—on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, retired Fish and Wildlife Service Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator David R. Parsons, the Endangered Wolf Center and the Wolf Conservation Center—filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to develop a recovery plan. A settlement of that lawsuit led to issuance of the Mexican wolf recovery plan that the same plaintiffs are now challenging. The plaintiffs are asking a federal judge to order the government to develop a Mexican wolf recovery plan that legitimately responds to recovery needs for the species as the law requires.
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