In May 2016, the state of New Mexico filed suit against U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) after the agency, despite political opposition, forged ahead and ushered two captive wolf pups into the wild through its pup-fostering initiative. Despite the scientific merit and success of cross-fostering events, the state was granted a Temporary Restraining Order in June 2016 – blocking all Mexican gray wolf releases within the state.
USFWS has a responsibility under federal law to facilitate recovery of the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf and releases are a central part of that effort. The entire existing Mexican wolf population descended from just seven founders rescued from extinction. Given its limited gene pool, the wild population faces a genetic crisis and releasing wolves from the more genetically diverse captive population is required to mitigate inbreeding.
In light of the current circumstances surrounding the Mexican gray wolf and its perilous plight, in January 2017, USFWS the challenged the decision to restrain further releases, moving the argument on whether states can block the federal government from reintroducing endangered wolves within their borders to a federal appeals court. Eighteen other states filed a friend-of-the-court brief siding with New Mexico.
Today, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to overturn the preliminary injunction, allowing USFWS to resume wolf releases within the state!
With this ability restored, USFWS has a chance to proceed with its proposal to release two captive packs of wolves into the Gila National Forest in New Mexico in 2017, and cross-foster up to 10 captive newborn pups with wild wolf families in New Mexico and Arizona. Addressing the Mexican wolf’s genetic imperilment requires an active program of releasing more genetically diverse wolves into the wild to capitalize on the remaining genetic potential available in the captive population.
Implications Beyond the Southwest
By denying New Mexico veto power over measures to save federally protected wolves, the court ruling is a win for endangered species beyond lobos. It prevents a dangerous precedent of allowing a state to refuse recovery efforts for endangered species if they don’t feel like complying.
So let’s get to it! USFWS, the lobos are ready and the wild is calling! It’s time to release some wolves!
The Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) or “lobo” is the most genetically distinct lineage of wolves in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the most endangered mammals in North America. By the mid-1980s, hunting, trapping, and poisoning caused the extinction of lobos in the wild, with only a handful remaining in captivity. In 1998 the wolves were reintroduced into the wild as part of a federal reintroduction program under the Endangered Species Act. Today in the U.S., there is a single wild population comprising only 113 individuals – an increase from 97 counted at the close of 2015.
The Wolf Conservation Center is one of 54 facilities in the U.S. and Mexico participating in the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan – a bi-national initiative whose primary purpose is to support the reestablishment of Mexican wolves in the wild through captive breeding, public education, and research.