By Mary Katherine Ray, Chapter Wildlife chair
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was required last year by court order to produce a new wolf-recovery plan to update the one that has been in place since 1982.
The new draft was released to the public on June 29. Now that the agency is under the Trump Administration, it appears be bowing to pressure from wolf opponents and detractors.
The new draft concedes authority to the states of New Mexico, Arizona and the country of Mexico to “determine the timing, location and circumstances of releasing wolves into the wild within their respective states.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service gave the states just such control for several years, and the result was a steep downward trajectory for the wild wolf population. Genetically valuable wolves were shot, and wolves were removed from the wild, swamping the captive population and resulting in irretrievable harm.
In 2002, the population was on schedule to meet the goal of 100 wolves in the wild by 2006. But in 2003, the Fish and Wildlife Service formed the Adaptive Management Oversight Committee, or AMOC, that included the state game agencies of New Mexico and Arizona and gave them veto power over measures necessary for wolf recovery. Four years later, there were only 52 wolves in the wild. Fish and Wildlife dissolved the committee in 2009, by which time there were only 42 wolves in the wild. After that, the population rose again, finally reaching 100 in 2015.
A team consisting of scientists and other stakeholders was assembled to draft a recovery plan in 2011, but the process was abruptly abandoned because of political interference. The scientists leaked their recommendations that for success there should be a minimum population of 750 wolves in three separate but connected subpopulations with no subpopulation having less than 200 wolves. The new draft document allows for only 320 wolves in the U.S. and 170 in Mexico (how the U.S. can direct a foreign government to restore or restrict wolves is not clear).
The states have repeatedly acted to thwart wolf recovery. Their governors have insisted that it take place mainly in Mexico and that no wolves be allowed in the Grand Canyon ecosystem or north of I-40. New Mexico denied the release of captive wolves into the wild until overruled by the courts.
The draft plan also fails to consider the best available science — as is mandated — when it comes to how many wolves are needed to adequately function in their role in the ecosystem. And it forbids allowing wolves into the Grand Canyon or Big Bend eco-regions, where there is ample habitat and they have historically been present.
The 60-day comment period includes public meetings. Two of the public meetings will be in New Mexico on July 20 and 22. Please mark your calendars now to attend. Or submit a comment online.