U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service retakes helm of Mexican wolf management

Lawsuit settlement results in USFWS reclaiming decision-making authority over Mexican wolves-

Folks are now hopeful that the failing effort to restore the Mexican wolf is out of the hands of a committee that had become captive to local anti-wolf interests.
Deal on Mexican Gray Wolf. Associated Press in the New York Times

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Endangered Mexican Gray Wolves Get a Boost on Road to Recovery

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service retakes helm of Mexican wolf management

Contacts: Eva Sargent, Defenders of Wildlife, (520) 834-6441
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club – Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter (602) 999-5790
Matt Kenna, Western Environmental Law Center, (970) 385-6941 x 131
Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity (575) 534-0360
Greta Anderson, Western Watersheds Project (520) 623-1878
Kim Crumbo, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council (928) 638-2304

TUCSON, Ariz. (Nov. 13, 2009) — The Mexican gray wolf recovery effort took a pivotal turn in the right direction today as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reclaimed its decision-making authority over management of this highly endangered animal that roams Arizona and New Mexico’s backcountry.

Settling a lawsuit brought by conservation organizations, the Fish and Wildlife Service reasserted its authority over a multiagency management team and scrapped a controversial wolf “control” rule that required permanently removing a wolf from the wild, either lethally or through capture, after killing three livestock in a year. Conservationists had criticized the rigid policy, known as Standard Operating Procedure 13 or SOP 13, for forcing wolves to be killed or sent to captivity regardless of an individual wolf’s genetic importance, dependent pups or the critically low numbers of wolves in the wild.“We’re happy to see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service once again accepting its responsibility for recovering these endangered wolves,” said Eva Sargent, Defenders of Wildlife’s Southwest program director. “With so few Mexican wolves in the wild, we need to restore the role of science – and this is a good step in that direction. Now, the Fish and Wildlife Service must begin to develop a credible recovery plan.”

At last count in January 2009, there were just 52 Mexican gray wolves and only two breeding pairs in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico. Another count will take place in January 2010. Before reintroduction began in 1998, the Fish and Wildlife Service had projected 102 wolves including 18 breeding pairs by the end of 2006, with numbers expected to rise thereafter.

For several years, the Mexican Wolf Adaptive Management Oversight Committee, also known as AMOC, had called the shots on whether or not a wolf would stay in the wild. AMOC was organized to bring other agencies to the table, but the Fish and Wildlife Service – in an unusual move – had ceded control of the Mexican gray wolf’s reintroduction to the committee.

Under AMOC’s direction, the Mexican gray wolf recovery effort became less about helping this endangered wolf return to its home range and more about wolf control and appeasing anti-wolf interests in the recovery area.

“With the Mexican gray wolf on the brink of a second extinction in the wild, more wolves need to be left on the ground and wolves need to be introduced in more areas in the Southwest,” said Michael Robinson, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. “A new recovery plan is needed to identify more places for Mexican gray wolves to be introduced, including potentially the Grand Canyon, southern Rockies and Mexico.”

Meanwhile, the Fish and Wildlife Service has recently signaled that it is ready to make a change for the better, coming up with new programs to help local landowners coexist with wolves.

“This settlement marks an essential step in refocusing the Mexican wolf recovery effort, but the Service will have to get to work on a science-based recovery plan in order to stop the Mexican wolf’s slide toward extinction,” said Kim Crumbo, director of conservation for the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council.

“We welcome a new management policy that will bring them closer to recovery,” said Matt Kenna of the Western Environmental Law Center, who represented the plaintiffs: “It is important that the power over Mexican wolf recovery has been returned to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service where it belongs under the law.”

The plaintiffs in the case were Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, New Mexico Audubon Council, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, University of New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, The Wildlands Network, Sierra Club, Southwest Environmental Center and Grand Canyon Wildlands Council.



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  1. catbestland Avatar

    This is indeed excellent news!!!! I hope it goes over well with the rednecks in Catron County. And if it doesn’t, I hope there are some heavy penalties built into the new program for those who intentionally disregard it.

  2. JimT Avatar

    I think it would be a great test case to use Catron County for strict enforcement and permanent revocation of grazing PERMITS Over the years, the ranchers there have been some of the worst in the country, even threatening the lives of BLM agents just trying to do their job with no consequences from law enforcement at any level. HCN did an excellent story on Catron County ranchers a few years ago; probably still available in the archives…

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan


    I agree. There are three or four really obnoxious counties in the United States when it comes to obeying the laws governing our public lands.

    Catron County is certainly one of them.

  4. Mike Avatar

    Great new. Just like the national forests and national parks, enforcement and oversight is best left to the federal government.

  5. Jeff Avatar

    Ralph- In your opinion what other counties make your list?

  6. Kropotkin_man Avatar

    Here’s the AZGF’s statement:

    Arizona Game and Fish response to court settlement agreement on Mexican wolf management

    Nov. 13, 2009

    In a news release distributed today (Nov. 13), the Center for Biological Diversity announced a settlement agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and several environmental advocacy groups concerning Mexican wolf management.

    The Arizona Game and Fish Department offers the following response:

    In its role as the state’s wildlife management authority, the Arizona Game and Fish Department has a vested interest in continuing its participation and leadership in Mexican wolf conservation.

    The department has actively participated in wolf recovery going back more than 30 years. Since 1977, the department has spent an estimated $5.3 million for wolf recovery efforts.

    The department advocates that Mexican wolf management decisions will continue to be based on sound science and to provide opportunities for participation by local and tribal governments, nongovernmental organizations and individuals from all segments of the public. The department looks forward to redefining how it can best participate in wolf management, to represent the state’s interests based on state statutory authority as well as its authority granted under the federal Endangered Species Act.

    Consistent with previous Arizona Game and Fish Commission guidance, the department supports the development of an updated Mexican wolf recovery plan with measurable recovery goals based on science. The current plan was completed in 1982 and the department has asserted for more than 10 years that failure to revise the plan has been a considerable impediment to wolf conservation.

    The department believes that the development of a mechanism for addressing financial impacts of wolf depredation on private interests is an important step in addressing long-standing social challenges associated with wolf recovery and may in fact be a crucial component in ensuring that the program moves forward in full compliance with the impacts and management commitments identified in the original (1996) environmental impact statement and final 1998 rule on Mexican wolf reintroduction.

    The department’s endangered species coordinator, Terry Johnson, currently chairs the Mexican Wolf Adaptive Management Oversight Committee (AMOC). The press release sent by the plaintiff organizations is misleading in that AMOC is not and never has been the deciding authority on whether or not a wolf stays in the wild. AMOC reviews situations in which management response is needed and when removal is one of the options considered makes recommendations based on an approved procedure and forwards those recommendations to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Prior to 2008 the USFWS Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator, per the 1998 final rule, made the final decision on removal. Since then, the Region 2 director of the USFWS has consulted on such recommendations with the directors of the other five lead agencies participating in AMOC, but ultimately is the sole deciding authority on wolf removal.

    The Arizona Game and Fish Department prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, or disability in its programs and activities. If anyone believes that they have been discriminated against in any of the AGFD’s programs or activities, including employment practices, they may file a complaint with the Director’s Office, 5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85086-5000, (602) 942-3000, or with the Fish and Wildlife Service, 4040 N. Fairfax Dr. Ste. 130, Arlington, VA 22203. Persons with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation or this document in an alternative format by contacting the Director’s Office as listed above.

  7. vickif Avatar

    I think this is a small start. We have got to make the public more aware of the malicious misinformation that is wide spread in the areas where these wolves exist. There will always be the SSS tactic to deal with, more so in these places. So educate, repopulate, vendicate. If cows can’t live in wolf territory, move the cows.
    (On a side note: Merle gets my approval for Sec of Interior! out with Salazar, in with Haggard!)

  8. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thanks for the news release. It doesn’t sound too bad, although the agency is trying to save face.

    As far as the statement “The department believes that the development of a mechanism for addressing financial impacts of wolf depredation on private interests is an important step in addressing long-standing social challenges associated with wolf recovery and . . . ” goes, financial compensation is almost irrelevant. Wolf depredations in terms of monetary losses is small stuff. There is no evidence anywhere that wolf compensation payments have generated support for wolf restoration except among media pundants.

    The vast majority of the opposition is cultural, and nothing will change that except perhaps generational replacement.

  9. Jeff N. Avatar
    Jeff N.

    I have to disagree w/ VickiF on this development being a “small start”. As with all wolf recovery in the western U.S., the biggest obstacle to recovery has been the removal of wolves by the federal government. Scrapping SOP 13 is big deal and a positive step in the Lobo’s recovery. This won’t make the “anti” side happy, but as we’ve seen in the past and what has been stated here….nothing makes these people happy. They had the chance to come to the table and chose not to. Tough sh*t.

  10. April clauson Avatar
    April clauson

    If AZ fish and game will be running things, it will not help one bit. AZ fish and game is out to make money and bow down to hunters and ranchers wish’s. I live in AZ and believe me, AZ f & g does nothing to preserve our land or our wildlife. Beautiful deserts being destroyed by shooters, ATV’s, off roaders, and they refuse to close these area’s down or patrol them. 1 time this whole summer while camping in forest lakes area did I see a forest ranger, 1 time!!!! they do not patrol or enforce laws at all.

  11. Matt Avatar

    It would be great to seee the Mexican wolf population
    increase to a more sustainable number than the current 52 or so with only two breeding pairs. An increase to two or three hundred within the next five years would atleast give them a more solid core population in the area to expand on. Lets hope this will give them a boost.

  12. Chris H Avatar
    Chris H

    I agree with Ralph that compensation for lost livestock and dogs will not help. It already exists through a private fund.
    If U.S.F.&W.S. does the same job they did before then what’s the point??! However, if they let the animals in the field, PROSECUTE those who kill the wolves (All they really need to do is hit one of the bars in Reserve), take down the theoretical recovery area boundary and perhaps start a secondary recovery area then I would be more optimistic.
    However, having followed the program for almost 20 years I remain hopeful.

  13. Jeff Avatar

    April-A lot of what you are describing isn’t necessarily G&F’s job. That is more likely the BLM or Forest Service’s responsiblity. If G&F is like it is here in Wyoming their authority is wildlife relate more than public lands management per se.

  14. vickif Avatar

    I grew up in Arizona, and lived for a while in New Mexico too. The F&G handling things is a small start. There are numerous obstacles to overcome.
    I am glad this is happening, but without a major strong arm to handle this seriously desperate situation, and a lot of scientific help and a ton of good fortune with breeding success…well, I remain cautiously optomistic.
    You can make laws and regulate things up the ying-yang, but it all boils down to how well you can and DO enforce them. Arizona doesn’t have the best record for backing up the scientific or ecological/environmental greater good.
    The strongest thing about the AZ F&G is their tendency to back down to ranchers. But that is merely my humble opinion.
    The sad reality is that these specific wolves had been allowed to be so decimated that their ability to maintain species numbers has to be aided by (or had in the past been aided by) populations that have been bred in captivity. They aren’t the breeding success stories of the YNP wolves. The MGW faces much more dire circumstances.

  15. vickif Avatar

    woops…I meant to address that to Jeff N. These wolves biggest obstacle is , as said by someone above, cultural ignorance, which unlike the MGW, is breeding faster than the wolves can.

  16. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    This could be good news. Now if they would just let them disperse…


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Ralph Maughan