News

Wolves in Court Conservation Groups Sue Fish and Wildlife Service; arguing failure to protect endangered species

July 3, 2015, 8:40 am

A federal plan that’s supposed to help restore populations of endangered wolves doesn’t give the animals a fair chance for a real future, argues a new lawsuit filed by Western Environmental Law Center, WildEarth Guardians, Friends of Animals and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance against the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

One big issue in the litigation is just how many wolves there should be.

The feds have been working to revise the rules governing management of both gray wolves in the northern half of the country and Mexican wolves found in New Mexico and Arizona. In January, the service released a revised rule for Mexican wolves that expands the area wolves are allowed to occupy and the area they can initially be released from captivity. It also lists the Mexican wolf subspecies separate from the gray wolf for the first time for protections under the Endangered Species Act. The target population for Mexican wolves was increased from 100 to 300-325.

The rule allows for “take of” Mexican wolves to protect livestock and domestic dogs—as in, wolves can be shot if seen attacking either. Wolves can also be killed or removed to protect elk and deer from unacceptable impacts.

Benjamin Tuggle, Southwest regional director for the service, said at the announcement that the increased area will allow a larger, more genetically diverse population to be established while providing “necessary management tools to address negative interactions.”

The coalition of conservation groups that has filed the lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service and its director, Daniel Ashe, also naming Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and the United States Department of the Interior in the lawsuit, argues that the plan fails to give Mexican wolves a decent chance at recovery.

When the US Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced 11 captive-bred Mexican wolves to New Mexico and Arizona in 1998, there were no Mexican wolves left in the US. In the 17 years that followed, wolves climbed slowly toward what was thought, when the plan for recovery was crafted in 1982, a goal so ambitious it might never be attained: 100 wild Mexican wolves in the US. The number of wolves in the recovered population crept slowly toward that number, hovering in the 40s and 50s for most of a decade, before finally reaching 109 in 2014.

A scientific panel convened around 2011 estimated a healthy, sustainable and genetically diverse population of wolves would be 750 wolves in three distinct population areas, connected by corridors. The Fish and Wildlife Service itself reported in 2012 that the struggle toward recovery in part stemmed from too few wolves having been released from captivity to reintroduce the wild population.

The population of Mexican wolves in New Mexico and Arizona is the world’s only wild population, the groups contend, and argue that as such, it deserves protection as an “essential experimental population,” rather than its current designation as “nonessential experimental population,” which allows for more flexibility in management.

“The problem with that is that there’s only one wild population, so losing the one wild population would mean there are no more wild ones,” Judy Calman, staff attorney with New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, tells SFR.

As relief, the lawsuit asks the Fish and Wildlife Service to classify the population as essential, acknowledging that if these Mexican wolves are eradicated, there will be none left in the world; use the best available science, which calls for higher population counts; and further provide for the conservation of the species.

“It doesn’t seem like recovery was really the objective,” Calman says. “It seems like a sort of political compromise among factions was the objective, and that’s just really not what Fish and Wildlife is charged with doing.”

The lawsuit was filed Thursday, July 2, in US District Court. Hearings will take place in Tucson.

Santa Fe Reporter

Conservationists sue to protect Mexican gray wolves

TUCSON, Ariz. — A group of conservation organizations has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its policies on Mexican gray wolves.

The Western Environmental Law Center filed the suit in Tucson this week on behalf of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and Friends of Animals.

 

The groups claim the federal government isn’t doing enough to protect Mexican wolves, an endangered species. They take issue with a final rule issued in January that caps the Mexican gray wolf population at 300 to 325 wolves, prevents wolves from colonizing in certain areas and allows more killing of the wolves by federal agents and private landowners.

A survey released in February showed 109 wolves in Arizona and New Mexico, more than at any time since a reintroduction program began in 1998.

SF New Mexican

Lawsuit filed against U.S. over protections for rare wolf

A coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit on Thursday against U.S. wildlife officials arguing that the government’s management plan for the endangered Mexican gray wolf, one of the most imperiled mammals in North America, does not go far enough.

The Western Environmental Law Center filed the suit on behalf of several organizations in a federal Arizona court, alleging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plans for the wolves violate the Endangered Species Act and other laws.

At issue is a final rule published in January that, while allowing more territory for the wolves to roam, also capped their population and provided more leeway to state wildlife agencies and others to kill the wolves to protect livestock as well as deer and elk herds prized by hunters.

“Unfortunately, politics supplants wildlife biology in key parts of the USFWS Mexican gray wolf plan,” attorney John Mellgren of the Western Environmental Law Center said in a statement. “Our goal in this case is to put the science back into the management of Mexican wolves in the U.S.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment on the litigation.

The agency ruled that 300 to 325 Mexican wolves would be needed in the U.S. Southwest for the animals to be considered recovered and stripped of protections under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Conservationists counter that the revisions were still insufficient to guarantee a strong comeback and said a minimum of 750 were needed for the animal’s long-term survival.

The number of imperiled wolves found only in the American Southwest climbed to 109 in 2014, marking the fourth consecutive year that the population of Mexican gray wolves has risen by at least 10 percent.

But Bethany Cotton, the wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians who is among the plaintiffs in the case, said the increase was “not nearly fast enough.”

Wild Mexican wolves were believed to be all but extinct in the United States in 1998 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began reintroducing the animal to its native range.

In Mexico, the animals are believed to have been extinct in the wild since the 1980s. In 2014, wildlife managers there announced the first litter of wolf pups to be born in the wild since then, local media said, following reintroduction programs.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Reuters

Editorial: Game board unfairly takes aim at gray wolf protector

By Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board

Playing tit for tat with an endangered species is not only unproductive; it’s petty. Yet that appears to be what the New Mexico Game Commission did last week when it declined to renew a permit that had been in place for 17 years allowing Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch in the Gila mountains to assist the federal Mexican gray wolf recovery program.

Ever since the program began in 1998, the Turner ranch has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide pen space for holding endangered wolves being taken from the wild or being reintroduced into the wilderness. Turner raises bison commercially on the 156,000-acre ranch in Sierra County and maintains it as a habitat for endangered and threatened species and for ecotourism.

Currently, there are just over 100 Mexican gray wolves in the wild – a species that once numbered in the thousands.

In the past, the Game and Fish director routinely signed off on the Turner permit. However, in November, the commission adopted a rule requiring commission approval for permits to keep wolves and other carnivores on private land for purposes of recovery or reintroduction. It appears to target the wolf program, and last week’s action is likely to hamper its success.

Mike Phillips, director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, said the commission hasn’t had a problem with the ranch and suggested “they are opposed to the Mexican wolf recovery program as currently constituted.”

That may relate to a new Fish and Wildlife Service rule that greatly expanded the wolves’ range south to the Mexican border and north to Interstate 40 and broadened areas where wolves bred in captivity could be released. It also gave ranchers, who generally oppose the program, more authority to shoot wolves dead if they prey on livestock or domestic animals.

Unlike the Bill Richardson administration, which supported the program, Gov. Susana Martinez has not been friendly to it – even though it has been popular with many New Mexicans. A 2008 survey by Research & Polling found 69 percent either strongly supported or somewhat supported the program. In 2011, the governor-appointed Game Commission suspended state participation.

Landowner rights should not become as endangered as the wolf. Turner should be allowed to use his property as he wishes in cooperation with the federal government, and the commission shouldn’t flex its self-granted power to punish a private landowner to make a statement.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

CLICK HERE FOR ABQ JOURNAL

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