In a victory for Mexican gray wolves, two agreements were reached between the Center for Biological Diversity and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that could help wolves in New Mexico and Arizona get a stronger foothold.
Mexican gray wolves who were once abundant, were listed as an endangered species in 1976 and bi-national recovery efforts were started. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much progress since then with the population growing to just 75 in the wild with three breeding pairs following the release of the first 11 in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in Arizona in 1998.
Since then, they’ve continued to face threats ranging from a lack of genetic diversity, diseases and natural disasters to conflicts with livestock and being killed by humans.
The Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan has faced a lot of criticism from conservationists who want to see this species thrive. Earlier this summer the FWS proposed extra protections for Mexican gray wolves as an endangered subspecies, but there were still issues with boundaries, a lack of releases and an incomplete recovery plan.
The agreements reached follow a lawsuit that was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity against the Secretary of the Interior and FWS and could give Mexican gray wolves a better chance at survival.
The first agreement will withdraw the FWS’ self-granted permit to capture and hold any Mexican gray wolves who come in from Mexico, at which point they would have been relocated to the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area, sent back to Mexico or placed in a captive breeding facility.
The second agreement will change an FWS rule that only allows releases in Arizona, which will now allow for direct releases into the Gila National Forest in New Mexico, where conservationists believe there is prime habitat for them. According to the Center, wolves will now be allowed to establish territories in all of Arizona and New Mexico between Interstate 10 and Interstate 40.
“These agreements should breathe new life into the struggling Mexican wolf recovery program and expand the wolf’s habitat here,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity in a press release. “The Mexican gray wolf is an icon of the Southwest and I’m thrilled it will have better protection.”
Currently, any wolves who leave the recovery area and establish a new territory are captured and put back. Not only does this stop them from establishing new territories and moving between different populations, but captures can be traumatic and end in death.
While there have only been a few deaths as a result of captures, another young female died inexplicably last week during a capture effort conducted by officials from the Arizona Game and Fish Department who intended to fit her with a radio collar.
Amidst the good news, the organization and other scientists still oppose the capture of wolves that cross those two interstates and hope the FWS gives them more space to roam.
“We’re glad the Fish and Wildlife Service is finally making much needed changes to the Mexican wolf recovery program but these changes clearly don’t go far enough,” said Robinson. “The science is clear that if Mexican gray wolves are to have any shot at recovery, they must be allowed to expand and establish population centers beyond what Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed. The Grand Canyon, southern Rockies and borderlands all provide habitat where wolves could be restored. We sure hope the Fish and Wildlife Service will allow wolves to move into these areas.”
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