Politics trumps science in this draft Mexican gray wolf recovery plan.
For Immediate Release
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Releases Draft Recovery Plan for Mexican Gray Wolves
SANTA FE (June 29, 2017) – As part of its 2016 settlement with conservationists, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released today the long-overdue draft recovery plan for endangered Mexican gray wolves, or lobos. The final recovery plan is expected to be released in November 2017.
Bryan Bird, Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement:
“Politics trumps science in this draft Mexican gray wolf recovery plan. It's a backroom deal with the states that resist wolf recovery and fail to understand the transformational benefits to the entire landscape when Mexican gray wolves thrive.
“Contrary to recommendations from leading wolf biologists, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s draft plan restricts the Mexican gray wolves from moving into millions of acres of suitable habitat in northern Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. President Trump’s plans to build an impenetrable border wall with Mexico will only worsen chances for the wolves’ recovery. The lobos would be boxed in, incapable of beating the clock on extinction.
“Future generations should have the chance to hear wolves howl on the landscape. Scientists – not politicians who had undue influence on the recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves – should be making decisions about how best to protect endangered species and their habitat.”
Mexican gray wolves, or ‘lobos,’ are the most endangered gray wolf subspecies in the world. The lobos are facing low numbers and a genetic crisis in the wild. Limited genetic diversity in the wild can result in smaller litters and lower pup survival – a recipe for extinction. Releases of captive wolves are critical to increase genetic diversity of the Mexican gray wolves in the wild.
To recover the endangered Mexican gray wolves, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must:
- complete a legally-sufficient recovery plan with the goal of a healthy, sustainable population of Mexican gray wolves in the wild;
- release more wolves into the wild; and
- extend the Mexican gray wolf recovery areas into suitable habitat north of Interstate 40 (I-40).
Scientists conclude that lobos require at least three linked populations in suitable habitat. Habitat capable of supporting two additional populations exists in the Grand Canyon ecoregion and in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. There is an estimated 19 million acres of potential habitat north of I-40 and Interstate 70 in Utah, Colorado and northern New Mexico. Much of these lands are livestock-free with low road-density and minimal projected human build-out, which translates to fewer opportunities for conflicts than other areas in the West. Defenders of Wildlife works with ranchers in the Southwest and across the country to prevent and minimize conflicts on the landscape through coexistence tools and strategies, including range riders, fladry and radio-activated guard (RAG) systems.
In November 2015 governors of the Four Corner States - Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah – all opposed the expansion, release and occupancy of Mexican gray wolves north of I-40 in Arizona and New Mexico and into Utah and Colorado. Acting Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Greg Sheehan was formerly the director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
Wolf reintroduction has proven ecological and economic benefits. For example, starting in 1995 – after a 70-year absence – wolves sparked a positive effect on the ecological health of Yellowstone National Park. The presence of wolves in Yellowstone has increased the diversity of wildlife, improved the overall health and vigor of elk and deer herds and even enhanced water quality. With less grazing pressure from elk, streambank vegetation like willow and aspen regenerated, creating a habitat for native birds, fish, beavers and many other species. In 2016, 4.26 million visitors enjoyed the park’s landscapes and diverse wildlife, largely made possible by wolf reintroduction. Their visits had a cumulative benefit of $524 million to the local economy.
Scientists predict that if the Mexican gray wolf population in the wild increases its numbers and improves it genetic diversity, we could expect to see the same kind of transformations observed in Yellowstone National Park in Southwestern landscapes.
What's next: Public meetings will be held in Albuquerque, NM; Truth or Consequences, NM; Flagstaff, Ariz.; and Hondah, Ariz. FWS' final recovery plan is set to be released by a court-mandated deadline of November 2017.
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With nearly 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Newsroom.Defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.