Protecting Mexican Wolves
The Mexican gray wolf is the smallest, rarest, and most genetically distinct subspecies of gray wolf. In 1976, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first listed the Mexican wolf as a protected species under the Endangered Species Act. In 1978, it was reclassified as part of the endangered status granted to all gray wolves throughout the country. In 1998, with no wild Mexican gray wolves in the U.S. and only a few wild Mexican gray wolves in Mexico, USFWS released 11 captive-bred Mexican wolves. WELC litigation prompted these releases through a settlement with USFWS.
These Mexican wolves were released as a “nonessential experimental population” with a goal of achieving a population of 100 Mexican wolves in a 5,000-acre area in Arizona and New Mexico. Despite a population of 97 Mexican wolves in the wild as of 2015 (down from 109 wolves in 2014), USFWS recognizes that the population’s failure rate is too high for natural or unassisted population growth. Wildlife biologists have concluded that the original goal of 100 Mexican wolves in the wild will not maintain a viable, self-sustaining population.
The failure of the Mexican wolf population to expand more quickly is in part due to human-induced wolf mortality, including killing by USFWS. Three hundred Mexican wolves currently exist in captivity, some of which could be reintroduced into the wild. However, the genetic makeup of this group is equal to only 20 wild wolves, which is problematic for establishing a healthy wild population and gene pool. To give a sense of the rate of Mexican wolf releases, in 2015, the USFWS has proposed releasing one breeding pair (with the female pregnant at the time of release) and an additional single wolf in a different location.
In January 2015, USFWS issued a final rule that reclassified the Mexican gray wolf as an endangered non-essential experimental sub-species of the gray wolf, and issued a final rule revising ESA considerations for the species. These rules and designations cap the population of Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico at a level too low for recovery, banishes Mexican gray wolves from needed habitat, and makes it easier for Mexican gray wolves to be killed by federal agents and private landowners.
WELC filed suit in July 2015 to compel USFWS to raise the population cap, remove the nonessential designation, reduce the permissible take and provide science-based geographic zones for Mexican wolves. WELC attorneys presented oral argument in Tucson in April 2017, and are currently awaiting a decision on the merits of our claims.
Take Action for Mexican Wolves
The federal government has issued new rules that put Mexican gray wolf recovery in jeopardy. The rules limit the population to 325, prevent wolves from moving into native habitat in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, and make it easier for federal agents and private landowners to kill them.