Don Burkett

New Trump Administration Plan for Mexican Gray Wolves Puts the 'Lobo' on Path to Extinction

The Trump administration released on Wednesday its long-overdue recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves, one of the most endangered mammal species in North America with an estimated wild population of just over 100. However, the plan charts a course for extinction rather than recovery, cutting off wolf access to vital recovery habitat and failing to respond to mounting genetic threats to the species.

"It's a 'recovery plan' in name only. Without additional habitat and greater genetic diversity, the wolves will continue to teeter on the brink of extinction. The plan provides none of these essential needs," said Heidi McIntosh, an attorney with the nonprofit environmental legal organization, Earthjustice, which sued the federal government on behalf of conservation organizations.

The Trump administration refused to listen to the tens of thousands of people who asked them to fix their awful draft plan before finalizing it. Among the people who weighed in asking for stronger protections for the wolves were concerned citizens, business owners and scientists.

"Lobos waited decades for a plan to save them, only to be given one that does not guarantee recovery," said Bryan Bird, Southwest director for Defenders of Wildlife. "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had the opportunity to build a plan on a foundation of science and conservation, but instead decided to let politics rule."

"Instead of moving forward with a plan based on legitimate, science-based recommendations, the Service collaborated exclusively with the very states that have gone to extraordinary lengths to obstruct Mexican wolf recovery," said Maggie Howell of the Wolf Conservation Center. "Critically endangered lobos deserve better."

"The Fish and Wildlife Service published over 250 pages of supporting 'scientific' justification, used a sophisticated model to predict extinction probabilities, then tossed the science aside and asked the states how many wolves they would tolerate with no scientific justification whatsoever," said David Parsons, former Mexican wolf recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service. "Using the states' arbitrary upper limit as a population cap in the population viability model and forcing additional recovery needs to Mexico, the plan will guarantee that from now to eternity no more than a running average of 325 Mexican wolves will ever be allowed to exist in the entire U.S. Southwest. This plan is a disgraceful sham."

The best available science indicates that recovery of the Mexican gray wolf requires at least three connected populations totaling approximately 750 individuals, a carefully managed reintroduction effort that prioritizes improving the genetic health of the animals and the establishment of at least two additional population centers in the southern Rockies and in the Grand Canyon area.

"This isn't a recovery plan, it's a blueprint for disaster for Mexican gray wolves," said Michael Robinson, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. "Limiting recovery to south of Interstate 40 keeps wolves out of the Grand Canyon and southern Rocky Mountains, areas that would greatly benefit from having wolves back and that scientists have determined are absolutely essential to their recovery."

The recovery plan just released by the Trump administration ignores the science and falls short in several key and interrelated ways:

  • Fails to establish the additional population centers and limits wolves to inadequate habitat with low recovery potential;
  • Does not provide for sufficient releases of wolves into the wild;
  • Fails to ensure conservation and enhancement of genetic diversity to ameliorate inbreeding;
  • Relies excessively on Mexico for recovery, where habitat is unpromising.

"It is critical for the health of the Mexican wolf population to obtain a sound, scientifically reviewed and based recovery plan. Politics should not play a role in management of an endangered species," said Virginia Busch, executive director of the Endangered Wolf Center.

The critically endangered Mexican gray wolf almost vanished from the face of the earth in the mid-20th century because of human persecution. The entire population of Mexican wolves alive today descends from just seven individuals that were captured and placed into a captive breeding program before the species was exterminated from the wild.

In 2014, Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, retired Fish and Wildlife Service Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator David R. Parsons, the Endangered Wolf Center and the Wolf Conservation Center, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to develop a recovery plan.

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