Two federal agencies charged with failing to ensure recovery of rare wolves
Today, WildEarth Guardians and The Rewilding Institute filed a lawsuit in Phoenix, AZ regarding the federal government’s failed stewardship of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program. The groups name the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service as defendants in the case. At issue is:
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s adoption and implementation of a controversial management protocol, dubbed SOP 13, which has brought the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program-and the species-to the brink of failure. The policy mandates the permanent removal of wolves known or thought to have been involved in three conflicts with livestock in any 365 day period; and
- The Forest Service’s failure to carry out a conservation program for the Mexican gray wolf within its own recovery zone-a heavily grazed area made up almost entirely of National Forest lands.
In February of 2008, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced that the Mexican wolf population in New Mexico and Arizona had declined by 12 percent in a single year, leaving only 52 Mexican wolves in the wild. Although not highlighted in the government’s announcement, the primary cause of the decline is the implementation of SOP 13.
“The government is putting wolves on the ground with one hand, and then killing or removing those same wolves with the other,” said Rob Edward of WildEarth Guardians. “It is high time to give the lobo higher priority than livestock production,” said Edward.
From 1998 to 2004, FWS removed only 25 wolves from the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (BRWRA) for conflicts with livestock. Since 2005, FWS has removed 45 Mexican wolves from the BRWRA, under SOP 13, for conflicts with livestock.
Dave Foreman of The Rewilding Institute argues that “In effect, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting the second extermination of the lobo in the wild,” referring to the fact that Mexican wolves were effectively extinct in the wild.
The handful of remaining wild Mexican wolves were captured and placed in captivity in the mid-1970s, with the aim of rekindling the species from captive stock. All Mexican wolves presently in the BRWRA are descended from those rescued few.
The lawsuit also ties the impacts of SOP 13 to the actions of the U.S. Forest Service, which manages 95 percent of the land comprising the wolf recovery area. The Mexican Wolf Recovery Program is floundering not only because of FWS’s over-zealous killing and removal of wolves in response to conflicts between wolves and livestock, but also because of the Forest Service’s refusal to prevent such conflicts through livestock management and policy reforms.
“The Forest Service is obligated to promote the well-being of imperiled species that reside on lands managed by the agency,” said Edward. “Yet the agency acts as if Mexican wolves don’t even exist, let alone need stewardship.”
Foreman takes the argument one step further, stating that, “these agencies are washing their hands of responsibility because they find that restoration of the lobo causes them problems. They seem to think that maintaining a handful of Mexican wolves in captivity fulfills their legal and ethical obligations to one of the most endangered mammals in the world. Thank goodness that wildlife managers in Africa and India have a greater commitment to wildlife or else there would be no lions or tigers in the wild.”
In sum, the lawsuit asks the court to:
- Order the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to immediately suspend implementation of SOP 13; and
- Order the U.S. Forest Service to develop and implement a conservation program for Mexican wolves within the recovery area.
A PDF copy of the lawsuit can be downloaded at http://www.wildearthguardians.org/htm/support_docs/complaint_el-lobo_sop13_4-30-08.pdf.