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Rare Lobos Get Another Chance at Maximum Recovery

The endangered Mexican gray wolf could eventually roam north of Interstate 40 after a judge ruled the current territory boundaries do not ensure long-term survival. (biologicaldiversity.org)
The endangered Mexican gray wolf could eventually roam north of Interstate 40 after a judge ruled the current territory boundaries do not ensure long-term survival. (biologicaldiversity.org)
April 9, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The clock is ticking for the Fish and Wildlife Service to draft a timeline for rewriting the 2015 federal management guidelines to protect endangered Mexican gray wolves.

A judge last week found the guidelines "failed to further the conservation of the Mexican wolf" and gave the federal agency 30 days to come up with a timeline to rewrite the rules and reconsider the status of the wolf population. Bryan Bird, southwest program director for the group Defenders of Wildlife in New Mexico, said the judge's ruling will require that the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether this population of Mexican wolves is essential.

"And that's really important," he said. "because 'essential' versus 'non-essential,' even though it's just semantics, it has great importance on how the wolves get managed in the wild."

The judge's ruling means the public and scientists will be able to comment on a revised plan. Conservationists have argued that the wolves' habitat is too small and they must be allowed to roam north of Interstate 40 for the best chance of survival, which the current plan prohibits.

In drafting the plan, the Fish and Wildlife Service walked a fine line in addressing the concerns of ranchers who consider the wolves predators and conservationists who say they're critical for wildlife diversity. Ranchers said the plan went far beyond what was needed for recovery, while wildlife groups argued that the guidelines disregarded scientists' advice on how to keep the wolves from extinction. Bird said he is hoping for a different result the second time around.

"We're of the opinion that politics is driving these results, not science, and this ruling by this judge basically repudiates that position," he said. "It says the science must rule the day, and you cannot make these rules up based on political pressure."

Slightly more than 100 Mexican gray wolves remain in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona. The Fish and Wildlife Service has called the Southwest Mexican gray wolf the "rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America."

The court decision is online at biologicaldiversity.org, and information on the USFWS Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program is at fws.gov.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM