SCBNA and ASM request changes in proposal to reform management of Mexican wolf population

The Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) represents one of the most distinct genetic lineages of wolves in the Western Hemisphere. This subspecies is also one of the most endangered mammals in North America and, as early as 1976, was protected under the Endangered Species Act. A single experimental population was reintroduced by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to the Blue Range of Arizona and New Mexico beginning in 1998. Between 2003 and 2009, growth of the wild population stagnated due to the regulatory structure of the reintroduction program, an out-of-date recovery plan, illegal shooting of individual wolves, and the effects of continued genetic inbreeding. Due to its very small founding stock (7 wolves captured in Mexico in the 1980s), each year that the captive and wild Mexican wolf populations remain at low population levels brings greater risk that the effects of genetic inbreeding will cause irreparable harm to this species. Population growth has resumed since 2009, due in part to reductions in the number of wolves removed from the wild by the FWS in response to livestock depredation.

Now the FWS is seeking to institute further changes in the recovery program (via a proposed rule change) which could allow the Mexican wolf wild population to continue to grow. These measures include expansion of the area to which wolves can be released, as well as of the area to which wolves can disperse and establish new packs. These proposed beneficial changes, however, are combined with other proposed changes which may hinder recovery. Today, the Society for Conservation Biology (North America Section) and the American Society of Mammalogists submitted comments on the proposed changes which highlighted three areas where changes are needed to the rule:

1) In place of the rule’s proposal to recapture wolves dispersing northward of Interstate 40 in Arizona and New Mexico, Mexican wolves should be allowed to naturally disperse and establish the additional populations which are necessary for recovery.

2) Changes that increase the number of situations in which agencies or the public are allowed to “take” (kill or remove) Mexican wolves should be reconsidered in the light of the fact that they may cause the population’s growth to stagnate as in the period 2003-2009.

3) The FWS should expeditiously complete a recovery plan to provide a long-term roadmap to recovery and delisting. The existing document, dating from 1982, is inadequate, yet three subsequent efforts to complete a new recovery plan have been unsuccessful, primarily due to political opposition.

The full SCBNA-ASM letter can be viewed here.