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Legal Efforts Underway to Protect Mexican Gray Wolves

Trapped female Mexican wolf whose leg was amputated due to suffering frostbite. This Mule Pack wolf was being transferred. PHOTO Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Trapped female Mexican wolf whose leg was amputated due to suffering frostbite. This Mule Pack wolf was being transferred. PHOTO Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
January 7, 2013

SILVER CITY, N.M. - Efforts to restore wolves to the wild continue to face obstacles. Most recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) granted itself a "recovery permit" to live-capture endangered wolves that enter New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico or the Rocky Mountains. As a result, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue the federal agency.

Michael Robinson is a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. He says wolves don't carry maps, and live-capture is dangerous. It can disrupt breeding pairs and leave pups without their parents, he explains, and in some cases, pups have disappeared and been presumed dead because their parents have been live-captured. But that's not all, he adds.

"There's been 18 instances in which wolves have been accidentally killed as a consequence of capture, as well as instances where they've lost legs that have had to be amputated due to trap injuries."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) says the permit is not a kill permit, but a "take" permit. It empowers agencies working with the Service to legally handle a member of an endangered species. FWS spokesman Tom Buckley says the permit ensures that if an animal is killed, those with permits are protected under the law. FWS has until late February to respond to the notice to sue.

Robinson says getting the Fish and Wildlife Service to offer protection to the Mexican gray wolf could be an uphill climb.

"This is the agency that originally poisoned and trapped the wolves to the brink of extinction. They've been all too quick to set traps or even to send up helicopters and gun down wolves."

Robinson says with the 60-day notice of intent to sue, the agency has until late February to respond before the Center for Biological Diversity takes further action. He says time is of the essence, and not just for FWS.

"The Mexican wolf is a unique animal that's adapted to the arid Southwest and to Mexico. And it's on the brink of extinction. We could lose the Mexican wolf, and we're fighting to ensure that we don't."

The Center also has filed two law suits that are active. One calls for FWS to take steps to save the Mexican wolves that have already been re-introduced into New Mexico and Arizona. The other was filed over the agency's denial of a scientific petition to list the wolf as a sub-species or a distinct population separate from other gray wolves. Such a listing would provide for specific recovery criteria that would signal when the wolf is no longer on the brink of extinction and can be considered secure.

Renee Blake, Public News Service - NM