Groups sue seeking recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves

The Wisconsin Gazette

A coalition of animal welfare and environmental groups has sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for repeated failures over the past 38 years to develop a valid recovery plan for the imperiled Mexican gray wolf, one of the most endangered mammals in North America.

With only 83 individuals and five breeding pairs in the wild at last report, Mexican gray wolves remain at serious risk of extinction, according to the coalition. They say a recovery plan, a blueprint for rebuilding an endangered species’ population to sustainable levels, is necessary to ensure the lobos’ survival and is legally required under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

“The opportunity to recover the Mexican gray wolf is slipping away due to genetic problems and inadequate management policies, but the government still hasn’t created the basic recovery blueprint that the law requires,” said Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso, who is representing the groups. “We are asking a judge to order federal officials to develop a scientifically-grounded recovery plan before it is too late.”

Earthjustice is representing Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, retired Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator David R. Parsons, the Endangered Wolf Center and the Wolf Conservation Center.

“For three decades now, Fish and  Wildlife officials have been dragging their feet on completing a recovery plan simply to appease state leaders and special interest groups opposed to sharing the landscape with wolves,” said Michael Robinson, a wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s shameful that the very people charged with recovering our wildlife have turned their backs on these beautiful creatures, leaving them to battle inbreeding and a host of other threats pushing them to the brink of extinction.”

The service developed a document it labeled a “Recovery Plan” in 1982, but the agency admits the document was incomplete, intended for only short-term application, and “did not contain objective and measurable recovery criteria for delisting as required” by the Endangered Species Act.

Also, the document did not provide a science-based roadmap to move the Mexican gray wolf toward recovery. In 2010, the service in 2010 admitted that the wild Mexican gray wolf population “is not thriving” and remains “at risk of failure.”

“In the Spring of 2012, the service cancelled the next meeting of the recovery team,” said Eva Sargent, Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlif. “And we haven’t heard a word since. The majority of Arizonans and New Mexicans support recovery of the lobo, and they deserve more than decades of stalling on the most basic task — a scientific blueprint that moves the wolves from endangered to secure.”

Service-appointed scientists drafted a plan in 2012 that called for establishing three interconnected Mexican gray wolf populations totaling at least 750 animals as criteria for delisting, but the plan has never been finalized. The abandonment of the 2012 recovery planning process leaves Mexican wolf recovery guided by the legally and scientifically deficient 1982 plan, which did not even set a population recovery goal.

A new report, “Deadly Wait: How the Government’s 30-year Delay in Producing a Recovery Plan is Hurting Recovery of Mexican Gray Wolves,” contains documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act that demonstrate the most recent effort to develop a recovery plan was quashed by the service in 2012 at the behest of the states of Arizona, Colorado and Utah, which did not want to see Mexican wolves recovered within their borders.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include two environmental education organizations that operate captive-breeding facilities providing Mexican gray wolves for release into the wild. Despite their efforts, Mexican gray wolf survival continues to be threatened by the lack of a recovery plan to ensure that wolf releases are sufficient to establish a viable population.

“Recovery cannot take place in captivity alone,” said Virginia Busch of the Endangered Wolf Center. “Only by developing and implementing a comprehensive and legally compliant recovery plan reflecting the best available scientific information can Fish and Wildlife Service secure the future of the Mexican wolf, and establish management sufficient to restore this irreplaceable part of our wild natural heritage to the American landscape.”

Maggie Howell, executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, New York, added, “The captive-breeding program that we operate aims to release wolves into their ancestral homes in the wild, but the success of our efforts requires a recovery plan that will ensure the survival of these iconic and imperiled wolves.”