Protecting Mexican Wolves – Endangered Species Act Case
Mexican gray wolves belong to one of 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 113 Mexican wolves in the wild as of 2016 (up from 97 wolves in 2015), 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, banish them from needed habitat, and make it easier for federal agents and private landowners to kill them.
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. In April 2018, a judge ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to go back to the drawing board on its deeply flawed 2015 Mexican wolf management rule. The court rejected the Service’s distortion of science to fit the political goals of increasing allowable killing, setting a population cap, and limiting the wolves’ range. The judge found the rule further imperiled the endangered species, and the Service illegally failed to reconsider the wolves’ designation as a “non-essential” population. We’ll keep tabs on how the new rule develops.
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.
Protecting Mexican Wolves – Recovery Plan Case
Recovery plans for listed species like Mexican wolves are one of the most important and critical tools for species conservation under the Endangered Species Act. They serve as road maps to recovery that outline where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to go and how best to get there.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s Nov. 2017 recovery plan is an affront to the Endangered Species Act and an insult to the Mexican wolf biologists who have been working to conserve the subspecies over the last 25 years. The final plan ignores the best available science–including all the published/peer reviewed literature–on the conservation needs of the subspecies, is purely a political document, and represents a significant departure from the agency’s 2012 findings (published in a draft recovery plan).
We hope to file a notice of intent to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service in early 2018 over this flawed plan that would harm the endangered Mexican wolf.