New Rules Expand Area Mexican Wolves Can Roam, But Also Allow Increased Wolf Killing
TUCSON, Ariz.— More than 71,500 people submitted comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) in support of stronger protections for Mexican gray wolves during the comment period ending today. In July, the agency proposed a new rule updating management of these wolves that would, for the first time, allow releases of captive-bred animals into New Mexico and allow wolves much more room to roam than they’re currently allowed. Scientists and citizens have long urged adoption of these measures.
However, the science-supported provisions in the proposed rule would be undermined by provisions arbitrarily limiting wolves to south of Interstate 40 in Arizona and New Mexico, and increasing the circumstances in which wolves could be trapped or shot despite scientists’ recommendations that the Service must decrease already-excessive human-caused removal and mortality rates.
“We’ve got to let wolves roam, find the best habitat with their own noses and paws — and frankly, we’ve got to stop the slaughter of wolves by both government and private citizens,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The proposed rule falls short of what is needed, and we hope that the government will listen to the tens of thousands of citizens requesting they follow the science and let these lobos raise their pups, travel freely and contribute to the balance of nature without persecution.”
“The Endangered Species Act and the hard work of wildlife biologists and individuals and groups throughout the country have given these endangered wolves a life line, a second chance,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter. “Now we need the US Fish and Wildlife Service to do its part – to reject these arbitrary borders, to stop the excessive killing of wolves, and to afford them the protections that are necessary for their recovery.”
Comments from conservation groups and thousands of citizens urged the Service to allow Mexican wolves to roam freely in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado; re-designate the small and vulnerable reintroduced population in the Southwest as “essential” under the Endangered Species Act; and spare wolves from trapping, snaring and shooting by the government and private individuals.
“The Service must decide how to manage the reintroduced Mexican wolf population based on the best available science,” said Drew Kerr, carnivore advocate with WildEarth Guardians. “The science shows that to recover, lobos need multiple populations in the American Southwest, freedom to roam their native habitat in the Grand Canyon and southern Rockies regions, and more protections from shooting and trapping.”
Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project Executive Director Emily Renn added, “Multiple studies, including peer reviewed science published in Conservation Biology just last year, show that the best available habitat for recovery of these special wolves is north of I-40. Many thousands of U.S citizens understand this, so why doesn’t the agency responsible for the wolves’ recovery?”
At last count, after thirty-six years of the government’s recovery efforts, just 83 wolves including only five breeding pairs, survive in the wilds of Arizona and New Mexico.
“Wolf supporters throughout the U.S. are united in wanting to see Mexican wolves roam throughout the Southwest so their howls can be heard again in every canyon and mountain range, and they can once again fulfill their important role as a top predator in maintaining the balance of nature in Southwestern ecosystems,” said Kevin Bixby, Executive Director of the Southwest Environmental Center.
Under a 1998 rule, the Service reintroduced Mexican gray wolves to a small area on the border of Arizona and New Mexico known as the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. In accordance with a settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Fish and Wildlife Service has now proposed to revise this rule and must finalize it by January 12, 2015.
The proposed rule allows release of captive wolves directly into New Mexico, which was previously only allowed for recaptured wolves. This should allow the release of more wolves from captivity, which is badly needed to bolster the genetic diversity of a wild population suffering from inbreeding depression and consequent lower reproductive rates.
The proposed rule also expands the recovery area across Arizona and New Mexico, and south to the Mexican border. By limiting wolves to the area south of Interstate 40, however, the proposed rule falls short of what scientists recommend.
A recovery team formed by the Service drafted a Mexican wolf recovery plan in 2013 that called for creating additional populations in the Southern Rockies and Grand Canyon regions. In response to objections from the states of Utah and Colorado, the agency neglected to finalize this recovery plan. Conservationists are pursuing litigation to obtain a final plan.
The proposed rule would liberalize take of wolves by allowing states to dictate wolf removal in response to wolves eating their natural prey such as elk and deer, and by allowing livestock owners greatly increased latitude to kill wolves, even those not involved in depredations.
In their comments, conservationists recommended the following:
• Designating Mexican gray wolves as “experimental essential” under the Endangered Species Act to bolster their legal and on-the-ground protections;
• Allowing wolves to roam into habitat north of Interstate 40;
• Requiring ranchers to remove or render inedible (for example, through lime) the carcasses of non-wolf-killed livestock before wolves can scavenge and become accustomed to eating livestock; and
• Disallowing take of wolves until the population reaches a science-based population threshold, in accordance with recovery recommendations the Service has ignored.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The Sierra Club is now the nation’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization — with more than two million members and supporters.
WildEarth Guardians is a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers and health of the American West.
The Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project is dedicated to bringing back wolves and restoring ecological health in the Grand Canyon Region.
The Southwest Environmental Center speaks for wildlife and wild places in the southwestern borderlands.
The following organizations also generated comments for Mexican wolf recovery:
Sierra Club-Rio Grande Chapter, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, White Mountain Conservation League, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Endangered Species Coalition, Mexicanwolves.org and the Wolf Conservation Center