The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will eliminate its current population cap on Mexican wolves in the Southwest. In addition, the agency will increase the number of captive Mexican wolf releases and restrict forms of allowable take.
In a May 12 notice, USFWS announced a final supplemental environmental impact statement (FSEIS), which assessed the environmental impacts of revisions to the management of Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. The revised rule was developed in response to a court-ordered remand by the District Court of Arizona, brought on by a lawsuit from conservation groups.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported the population of Mexican gray wolves in the U.S. has increased for the sixth consecutive year. However, a slower growth in 2021 was attributed to low pup recruitment in the wild.
The FSEIS analyzed three alternative plans to revise the existing nonessential experimental designation of the Mexican wolf in the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act.
The preferred alternative, Alternative One, will implement the following:
- Remove the population limit from the 2015 10(j) rule, which allows a maximum of 300-325 Mexican wolves in the experiment area.
- Increase the number of captive Mexican wolf releases, with the goal of 22 released wolves surviving to breeding age by 2030.
- Restrict three forms of allowable take until genetic diversity goals are reached. This includes take on nonfederal land in conjunction with a removal action, take on federal land, and take in response to an unacceptable impact on a wild ungulate herd.
In any event, whatever the source of wolves that will be put into Colorado, they will not be the Mexican wolf subspecies. So, what happens if and when wolves in Colorado disperse southward and meet up with the Mexican wolves? They will likely both interbreed and kill each other.
Removing the population limit will align the population objective with the recovery criteria for the Mexican wolf, USFWS said, which is an eight-year rolling average of at least 320 Mexican wolves and greater than 320 wolves in the last three years of the eight-year period. The agency estimates there are at least 196 Mexican wolves in the wild as of 2021. The wild population increased by 5 percent in 2021, although population growth was lower than hoped.
“Implementation of Alternative One may result in less than significant direct adverse impacts to hunting and less than significant direct adverse impacts to livestock production at the regional scale,” read the draft FSEIS.
However, the draft acknowledged that significant direct adverse impacts could occur to a limited number of individual livestock operators in New Mexico and Arizona, and adverse economic effects could be disproportionately distributed.
“However, we expect any adverse disproportionate impacts that might be experienced by these population groups of concern to be less than significant or not significant due to the mitigation measures available under this alternative,” USFWS said.
The agency said it will work with producers to eliminate attractants and to use guard animals, range riders, flags and other techniques to reduce wolf conflicts. Authorized agencies will also investigate reported wolf incidents no more than 48 hours after receiving a report. USFWS will also use lethal removal for problem wolves.
“On a daily basis, ranching families contend with unpredictable weather, fluctuating markets and increasing regulations. Now, the federal government is moving the recovery plan ‘goal posts’ once again,” said Craig Ogden, president of the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, in a Facebook post. “Our state’s ranchers are being sacrificed to achieve an ever-changing goal with no real finish line in sight.”
Environmentalists applauded the decision but decried the rejection of “science-based reforms that would increase genetic diversity at a faster rate.”
Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement: “Mexican gray wolves have won a reprieve from a planned massacre, but their hopes to find unrelated mates are being dashed at the same time.”
He added, “It’s disappointing that the federal government still refuses to replenish the priceless genetic diversity lost through its own mismanagement of these wolves.”
Conservation groups said while there was a goal of ensuring 22 wolf pups would survive through breeding age, there are no requirements that those wolves breed.
“Unless those cross-fostered wolves who survive to breeding age actually reproduce, those animals have zero impact on the wild gene pool. So how are they moving the needle any closer to a genetic objective?” asked Maggie Howell, Wolf Conservation Center executive director, in a press release.
The groups also noted the USFWS does not plan to release bonded male-female pairs with pups into the wild, just neonatal pups removed from their captive parents.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is proposing management regulation changes regarding Mexican wolves in Arizona and Mexico. The commenting period is now open and will last 90 days through Jan. 27, 2022.
“Cross-fostering alone will not produce a thriving, recovered and genetically healthy Mexican gray wolf population,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter.
The environmentalists allege only 13 of 72 cross-fostered pups that were released into the wild are still alive since their release in 2016. The groups claim only four of the wolves are known to have reproduced, and only six of the offspring are known to be alive.
Plaintiffs in the suit that brought on the draft revised plan included the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Endangered Wolf Center, Wolf Conservation Center and retired Fish and Wildlife Service Mexican wolf recovery coordinator David R. Parsons.
USFWS published a proposed rule revision and draft SEIS in October, which was followed by a 90-day commenting period. The agency said it received over 80,000 public comments that did not result in substantive changes to the FSEIS. A final decision and revised rule will be published by July 1.