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For Immediate Release, August 11, 2009

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

Center for Biological Diversity Petitions for Protection of Mexican Gray Wolf

TUCSON, Ariz.—  The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition today with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to formally separate the Mexican gray wolf from other wolf populations in the United States and list it as either an endangered subspecies or a “distinct population segment.”

The Mexican gray wolf is not currently protected as a distinct entity, and thus the Fish and Wildlife Service has never identified coherent goals and strategies to ensure its full recovery and removal from the endangered species list. Lacking these goals, the recovery program has lagged far behind recovery efforts in the northern Rocky Mountains and Great Lakes. The current federal “recovery plan” for the Mexican gray wolf was developed 27 years ago as an interim strategy that does not identify the total number of needed wolves, wolf populations, or genetic diversity needed to save the Mexican wolf. The plan has never been updated.

Listing of Mexican wolves as a unique subspecies or distinct population segment will require development of a new recovery plan, including a long-term plan for establishing new populations. Excellent habitat still remains in the southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado and New Mexico, the Grand Canyon ecosystem of Arizona and Utah, and the Sky Islands of northern Mexico and southern Arizona and New Mexico.

“The Mexican gray wolf is distinct from gray wolves in the rest of the United States and deserves strong protections and a focused recovery effort,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center. 

Although the Mexican gray wolf was reintroduced into portions of Arizona and New Mexico, populations have failed to grow as expected, and the population has struggled at chronically low numbers. At the end of 2008, there were only two breeding pairs and roughly 50 Mexican wolves in the wild. The population had been projected to reach 18 breeding pairs and 102 wolves by 2006, but because of high mortality related primarily to government recapture and killing, and poaching and vehicular collisions, the populations have not met targets.     

“It’s time for the Obama administration to breathe new life into the recovery program for the Mexican gray wolf,” said Greenwald. “Listing the Mexican gray wolf as a distinct entity would require development of a new recovery plan and provide a stronger mandate to protect these distinctive wolves.”

The current recovery plan for the Mexican wolf was finalized in 1982 and is substantially out of date.   

“The Mexican gray wolf recovery program has been operating with one arm tied behind its back,” said Greenwald. “It’s time to take the gloves off and get more wolves onto the landscape.”   

The petition asks Fish and Wildlife to list the Mexican gray wolf as either a subspecies or distinct population segment, both of which are clearly allowed under the Endangered Species Act. The most recent genetic work on wolves has found that Mexican wolves are highly unique, leading the scientists responsible for the work to conclude that they should be a “high priority for conservation.” The scientists also found that Mexican wolf genes were found in a large area in the Southwest as a result of intergradation with other gray wolves, suggesting that they could be reintroduced in an area much larger than what has typically been considered the historic range of the subspecies. 

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