The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today over the agency’s rejection of a 2009 scientific petition from the Center that sought classification of the Mexican gray wolf as an endangered subspecies or population of gray wolves. Mexican wolves are currently protected as endangered along with all other wolves in the lower 48 states, with the exception of those in the northern Rocky Mountains and Great Lakes region. In filing today’s suit, the Center said specific protection for Mexican wolves is needed to ensure their recovery.
“Mexican wolves are the smallest, most genetically distinct of all gray wolves in North America, uniquely adapted to the dry lands of the Southwest,” said Michael Robinson, the Center’s wolf specialist. “We’re filing our second lawsuit in three weeks on their behalf because these very rare animals are on the razor edge of extinction due to federal mismanagement, persecution and neglect. We don’t want to look back in 10 years and wonder if there was anything else we could have done to save them.”
Both lawsuits aim to help Mexican wolves recover. In November the Center sued the Fish and Wildlife Service to compel it to reform its ongoing wolf-reintroduction program in accordance with recommendations made by its own scientific panel in 2001. More than 10 years ago the agency promised to consider the reforms, and then, in 2007, it renewed this promise to a court; but it has never followed through. In seeking separate recognition of Mexican wolves through today’s lawsuit, the Center hopes to force the agency to implement the reforms and complete a new recovery plan, in the works since as far back as 1995.
“Fish and Wildlife has consistently failed to take action to ensure the survival and recovery of the Southwest’s one-of-a-kind wolves,” said Robinson. “The government’s stubborn refusal to follow the best science on wolf recovery is pushing the last Mexican gray wolves we have left way too close to the cliff of extinction.”
Nearly 15 years after Mexican wolves were first reintroduced to the Southwest, there are only 58 wolves in the wild; it has been four years since a new wolf was released from captive-breeding facilities. Scientists believe Mexican wolves may be suffering from genetic inbreeding, with reduced litter size and pup survivorship.
Following a lawsuit by the Center, reintroduction of Mexican wolves began in 1998. The reintroduction has been hampered by rules that require recapture of wolves who set up territories outside the narrowly defined recovery area and that do not allow release of captive wolves into New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, where there’s extensive suitable habitat. The reintroduction has also been hurt by an out-of-date 1980s recovery plan that does not specify a target for recovery. The Center’s two lawsuits seek to remedy both of these failings by getting the agency to enact reforms and protect Mexican wolves as a specific subpopulation.