Attacks in court and in Congress undermine the recovery of the Mexican gray wolf
Last month, a federal district judge granted New Mexico a preliminary injunction in the state’s case against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), forcing the agency to stop all releases of Mexican gray wolves. Without these releases, we could lose the lobo forever – it’s the only way to improve the wild population’s genetic health.
For years, the FWS delayed releasing wolves due to loud anti-wolf voices in both Arizona and New Mexico. When they stepped up to the plate this year and released two pups in New Mexico in April, with plans to also release two more adult wolves, New Mexico’s Game and Fish Department sued them. The state requested a halt to all lobo releases while the court considers the lawsuit, and demanded that officials recapture the released pups. While the court thankfully denied the recapture, they did halt all releases of lobos into the wild in New Mexico – at least temporarily.
Progress is halted, and the attacks continue
While the case is being hashed out in court, the window for captive-born wolf pups to be accepted into a wild wolf pack, or for releases of adult wolves and their pups, has closed for the year. Pups are born in the spring, and adult wild wolves only accept captive newborn pups into their dens when their own wild pups are days old. Warmer seasons also mean more grass for deer and elk, which means more food for growing wolf families to eat.
Before this year’s pup releases, only four wolves had been released during the entire Obama administration. Now with the stalemate with New Mexico, the declining Mexican gray wolf population continues to slide towards extinction. At the last official count in February, there were only 97 wild Mexican gray wolves in the United States, and fewer than 25 in Mexico.
Knowing how crucial wolf releases are to Mexican gray wolf recovery, Defenders of Wildlife and our conservation partners have requested to intervene in the case between FWS and New Mexico. We asked the court to allow us to join the case and help FWS to defend its right and authority to recover endangered species – which in this case clearly means releasing more wolves into the wild. And late last week, the judge granted our request!
At the same time, the attacks on Mexican gray wolf recovery continue, this time in the U.S. Congress: Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) recently attached a rider to the House version of the Interior appropriations bill that would stop all funding for the Mexican gray wolf recovery program.
Senator Udall (D-NM) has been a vocal opponent of riders on the Interior Appropriations bill that undermine wildlife. We’re working with allies like him and others to remove dangerous anti-wildlife riders before Congress sends a new Interior appropriations bill to the president’s desk.
A majority in New Mexico wants to recover the lobo
The most outspoken anti-wolf politicians in New Mexico are acting on behalf of an outspoken minority. This fight against Mexican gray wolf recovery does not reflect what most New Mexico citizens want: to see the lobo recovered. A 2013 poll showed that 69 percent of New Mexican voters support restoring Mexican gray wolves to suitable habitat in the state. Citizens also have turned out in large numbers for meetings at the New Mexico Game and Fish Commission calling for “more wolves and less politics.”
There are senior elected officials too that want to see the Mexican gray wolf recovery program work. U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) said in a recent radio interview that, “I have real concerns about the NM Game Commission’s actions to undermine the Endangered Species Act. I have encouraged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do what is necessary under the law to recover the Mexican gray wolf.”
What’s next for Mexican Gray wolf recovery?
The next big decision on Mexican gray wolf releases is coming up in a few short weeks: The Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan meeting will be held in early August in Montana. There, the FWS and the captive facilities that breed and take care of lobos will meet to plan next year’s lobo releases.
The FWS stood up to New Mexico on wolf releases. Now they need to sit down with the breeding facilities and plan for an aggressive number of releases of adults and pups in 2017 – a number that makes up for years of foot-dragging, and for this year’s temporary ban on releases in New Mexico.
The Mexican gray wolf is the most endangered gray wolf in the world. It deserves no less than our best efforts at recovery. If FWS will remain resolute against the states that would ban releases, the lobo can join the bald eagle, southern sea otter and other species that have made remarkable comebacks. It is imperative that we keep our eye on recovery, and make sure that many lobo releases happen in 2017. Please join us in calling for more wolves and less politics; ask FWS to release more wolves to prevent the extinction of this beautiful species.