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Mexican Gray Wolves Deserve Better

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In his recent guest column, “AZGFD supports wolf recovery based on best science,” Arizona Game and Fish Commissioner Jim Ammons charges that organizations challenging U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s draft recovery plan are peddling “false scientific information that undermines the good work of the Arizona Game and Fish Department and our wolf recovery partners.”

The Wolf Conservation Center (WCC), an active recovery partner itself, takes exception.

Firstly, we applaud the Mexican wolf Interagency Field Team, which includes wildlife biologists from the AZGFD, for their hard work to restore this important species in spite of significant barriers and limitations.

As an active member of the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan (MWSSP), the WCC is also on the ground every day, working to give Mexican wolves a fighting chance.

The MWSSP has played a critical role for nearly 40 years in preventing the extinction of the Mexican wolf through captive breeding (for maximum genetic integrity) and supporting Mexican wolf reintroduction by producing wolves for release.

More specifically, as a partner and in-kind donor, the WCC is tasked with housing and caring for the wolves, collaborating in the carefully managed captive breeding program, research, education, recommendations for release, gamete collection, and more.

Re-establishing a viable, genetically diverse self-sustaining population is our goal.

Unfortunately, the draft recovery plan fails to reflect the same.

The success of recovery efforts requires a legitimate, science-based recovery blueprint that will ensure the survival of these imperiled wolves. The draft plan, however, is the result of direct collaboration with some states, including Arizona, that have gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent the recovery of the world’s most endangered gray wolf.

Opportunities, and quite frankly genetically irreplaceable wolves, have been wasted through AZGFD’s following actions:

  • In 2010, AZGFD asked Congress in a letter to strip all federal protections for the Mexican gray wolves despite their critically endangered status and then population of a mere 50 wolves.
  • When AZGFD took the reins of the wolf reintroduction program from 2003 – 2009, over 60 wolves were removed from the wild. Beyond the numbers, serious genetic consequences remain in both the captive and wild population from this period of heavy-handed management. In 2009, when the USFWS resumed control of the program, the population began to rebound. From 2010 to 2017, the wolf population rose from 50 to 113.
  • By law, endangered species recovery must be based on the best available science. In a letter, AZGFD insists that the majority of Mexican wolf recovery must occur in Mexico despite peer-reviewed science showing that habitats in Mexico alone cannot support enough wolves to prevent extinction and despite Arizona’s own admission that recovery of the subspecies in Mexico is “improbable.” Moreover, the Martinez-Meyers habitat analysis used in support to the draft recovery plan is an unpublished report, not ‘peer reviewed’ science at all.
  • AZGFD supports trapping or killing any wolves that travel toward key habitats north of Interstate 40, areas that scientists say are crucial for recovery.
  • AZGFD advocated for capping the number of endangered Mexican gray wolves allowed in the U.S. to 200-300 (far below the numbers scientists say are necessary for recovery) and removing or killing any wolves above the limit.
  • On August 7, 2015, Arizona Game and Fish Commission voted unanimously to oppose all releases of adult wolves from captivity, even though scientists confirm that the wolves cannot recover without additional releases to boost their genetic health. Instead, the state wants to rely solely on cross-fostering, a useful tool, but alone, according to Mexican wolf geneticists, is unlikely to solve the wolves’ survival problems.

While we agree with Commissioner Ammons that our collective goal should be helping this species to thrive, calling out peer-reviewed science as “false scientific information” is both disheartening and reckless.

Mexican gray wolves deserve better.

The WCC is submitting comments on the draft recovery plan and encourages others to make a difference for Mexican wolves too.

The deadline to submit comments is tomorrow, August 29.

Click HERE for talking points and comment link.

For more information re: Arizona’s missteps in lobo recovery, “Four States’ Efforts to Derail Wolf Recovery” details the various ways four states have tried to block or frustrate recovery of the Mexican gray wolf.