Lawsuit Challenges Fish and Wildlife Service’s Inadequate Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Efforts

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TUCSON, Arizona– Conservation groups filed a lawsuit today in the United States District Court challenging a new management rule from the US Fish and Wildlife Service that does not provide for the recovery of the Mexican gray wolf, among the most endangered mammals. threatened in the United States.

Center for Biological Diversity and wildlife advocates, represented by Earthjustice in lawsuit, say new Fish and Wildlife Service rule fails to address ongoing genetic threats to Mexican gray wolves, sets inadequate population goal and prevents the wolves from recovering. habitat.

“The government’s new management program threatens to derail the entire Mexican gray wolf recovery effort,” said Timothy Preso, general counsel for Earthjustice’s biodiversity advocacy program. “Improving genetic diversity and establishing additional populations is critically important to the survival of the lobo. Unfortunately, this new rule falls far short of what is needed to restore the Mexican gray wolf.

In its new management rule, the Service sets a target of 320 wolves in a single area of ​​eastern Arizona and western New Mexico and prohibits wolves from promising recovery habitat but unoccupied in the Grand Canyon and southern Rocky Mountain areas. Scientists have identified the establishment of additional populations of Mexican Gray Wolves in these areas as critical to eventual recovery.

While the new rule calls for the release of enough captive wolves to improve the genetic diversity of the wild Mexican gray wolf population, it will consider population genetic issues resolved if those released wolves simply survive to a certain age, whether they reproduce or not.

“We are deeply concerned that FWS continues to disregard the recommendations and concerns of top scientists and the adverse effects of this inaction on recovery,” said Craig Miller, senior South West representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “Mexican wolves, ranchers and the public would all benefit from the increased coordination that comes with ‘essential’ status and by allowing wolves to return to suitable habitats where there is little opportunity for conflict. Instead, the new rule prevents needed expansion and confines a single population to an area with lots of unsuitable habitat and a high likelihood of conflict.

“Increasing genetic diversity is key to restoring Mexico’s small gray wolf population, but the government is stalling,” said Michael Robinson, senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Underlying the lack of federal genetic standards is a determination to continue killing wolves and avoiding effective wolf releases, all in the name of the breeding industry on public lands. Our trial will show how the government has refused to be candid about the deadly consequences of its mismanagement.

The Fish and Wildlife Service rule challenged by conservation groups represents the agency’s effort to revise an earlier framework for managing the Mexican gray wolf after it was successfully challenged by the same conservationists.

In 2015, the Service proposed a management rule for the reintroduced Mexican gray wolf population that threatened to compound many threats to the subspecies’ survival. Conservation groups won their challenge to the rule in March 2018, as a federal court in Arizona found the rule violated endangered species law.

In its ruling, the court faulted the agency for ignoring the advice of key scientists whose work the agency claimed to rely on. The court ordered the Service to issue a new business rule by July 1, 2022.

In addition to the management rule, conservation groups are challenging the 2017 recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves in a separate lawsuit that is now before the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. This lawsuit argues that the plan does not provide for the “conservation and survival” of the species and does not base its delisting criteria on the best available science, as required by law. Among other failures, leading scientists previously determined that recovery would require three connected subpopulations of Mexican gray wolves in the wild, totaling at least 750 wolves. But following pressure from state officials, the recovery criteria were changed to a single population of 320 wolves, with an additional isolated population in Mexico. The new management rule reflects this and other shortcomings of the 2017 recovery plan.

Mexican gray wolves are the most distinct lineage of wolves in the Western Hemisphere. This wolf subspecies of the American Southwest and Mexico was driven to near extinction following a government-sponsored massacre in the mid-20th century. At the end of the killing program, only seven individuals remained in a captive breeding program. The enactment of the Endangered Species Act spurred efforts to recover the Mexican gray wolf from the imminent threat of extinction and it was listed as endangered in 1976.

While the Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there were 196 Mexican Gray Wolves in the wild at the end of 2021, population numbers remain well below recovery goals and its genetic integrity is severely deteriorated. On average, wolves in the reintroduced population are as related to each other as full siblings.

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