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Three Scientific Societies Offer Their Expertise To Move Mexican Wolf Recovery Forward

June 20, 2012.  Today, the American Society of Mammalogists, the Society for Conservation Biology, and the Society for Ecological Restoration sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) offering their scientific expertise to conduct an expedited peer review on a draft set of recovery criteria for the highly-endangered Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi).  Efforts to develop a science-based recovery plan for the species appear to have reached an impasse. In addition, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a whistleblower organization, has filed a complaint as provided in the Interior Department’s relatively new Scientific Integrity Policy, asserting that certain FWS and State agency personnel of Utah and Arizona appear to be undermining efforts to include these science-based recovery criteria in the revised recovery plan. Given the precarious conservation status of the Mexican wolf, and the fact that recovery efforts are still being guided by a plan from 1982, the three scientific societies have offered their assistance in order to move recovery planning forward for the species.  The letter also urges the FWS to immediately resume the recovery planning process for the Mexican wolf, which has, in effect, been suspended recently by the FWS, and is now over a year behind schedule.

The Mexican wolves represent one of the most distinct genetic lineages of wolves in the Western Hemisphere, and are thought to be the only surviving descendants of the first wave of gray wolves to colonize North America during the Pleistocene Epoch.  A single experimental population was reintroduced to the Blue Range of Arizona and New Mexico beginning in 1998.  Despite predictions that this experimental population would grow to over 100 individuals by 2006, today there are only 58 individuals living in the wild.  Due to its very small founding stock, 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.

In 2011, the FWS assembled a group of scientists to develop a recovery plan and as part of that to develop recovery, goals based on the best available science for a revised recovery plan for the Mexican wolf, and this group completed a draft recovery plan in May 2012.  Unfortunately, it appears that in deference to political or other concerns, higher level officials may be blocking the full recovery team from considering the goals recommended by the scientific subcommittee of the recovery team. Now, it appears that consideration of the entire draft plan may either be delayed or blocked.  A science-based recovery plan has the potential to reduce conflict over the long-term by minimizing litigation, minimizing resources needed by FWS for defending its actions, and speeding the eventual delisting of the Mexican wolf.  The three societies have the capacity to expeditiously review the recovery plan to see if it sufficiently address the continuing loss of genetic health due to inbreeding, ensures long-term resiliency in wolf populations given expected habitat changes in the Southwest due to climate change, and meets the other criteria of the Endangered Species Act. A peer review could resolve this impasse in a transparent manner and allow Mexican wolf recovery to proceed. 

The letter can be viewed HERE.

Updated July 27, 2012.   The Fish and Wildlife Service sent a reply to the three scientific societies on July 27, refusing the offer to conduct an expedited peer review of the draft recovery plan.  Read the FWS response HERE