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Study Finds Politics Resulted in Lower Recovery Goals for Mexican Gray Wolves

A new study published today in Scientific Reports finds that politics heavily influenced the development of a recovery plan for critically endangered Mexican gray wolves.

The researchers, led by Dr. Carlos Carroll of the Klamath Center for Conservation Research, were curious as to a sudden change in recovery criteria after political opposition. In 2013, a team of scientists compiled draft recovery plan criteria for the Mexican gray wolf and found that a population of 750 wild lobos in the U.S. was needed for recovery. However, after opposition from politicians in the southwest, a new draft plan was released in 2017 that called for only 320 wild lobos.

Scientists compared the 2013 and 2017 draft recovery plans for the Mexican gray wolf and analyzed the population viability models that had been used to develop the plans. The two plans differed drastically in the population of wolves required for recovery and the 2017 modeling team, comprised of state political appointees and scientists, was found to have chosen more optimistic values for threats such as disease risks.

“Recovery goals based on politics rather than science slow Mexican wolf recovery by allowing the agency to forego opportunities to establish new populations in suitable habitat and to underestimate the number of wolves that need to be released from captivity into the wild population to improve genetic health,” stated Dr. Carroll.

In 2018, the Wolf Conservation Center and other conservation organizations sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Arizona U.S. District Court to challenge the inadequacies of the 2017 Mexican wolf recovery plan. The lawsuit notes that the plan is not science-based, does not adequately address ongoing threats to Mexican wolves, and will not lead to Mexican wolf recovery. This suit is ongoing.

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 131 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.