Conservationists Send 60-Day Notice of Intent to Sue Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management : Allege that Failure to Prevent Mexican Gray Wolves from Scavenging on Livestock Carcasses Imperils Species
The Center for Biological Diversity today notified the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that the agencies are in violation of the Endangered Species Act for failing to take measures that would prevent livestock carcasses left on the public lands from habituating Mexican gray wolves to livestock, thus leading to the wolves' removal from the wild.
The conservation group allowed the federal agencies 60 days before facing legal action, in accordance with the citizen suit requirement of the Endangered Species Act. The agencies can avoid litigation by developing enforceable procedures to ensure such carcasses are removed, destroyed or rendered unpalatable before the wolves scavenge on them.
Five packs or family groups and numerous individual (non-pack affiliated) wolves have been removed from the wild since the reintroduction of the Mexican wolf began in March 1998. In the cases of at least four of the five packs and several of the individual wolves, the wolves' discovery and utilization of livestock carcasses precipitated the removals.
According to a June, 2001 independent scientific report
commissioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (which runs the recovery
program), "Survival and recruitment rates... are far too low to ensure
population growth or persistence," indicating that "the wolf
population will fall short of predictions for upcoming years." At
the end of 2001, there were anticipated to be 35 wolves in the wild, but
there were actually only 21 radio collared and monitored wolves. At present,
there are only 19 known wolves and two of them are slated for capture.
Fish and Wildlife Service personnel have long recognized the role of carcasses in habituating wolves to livestock, and have faced the problem of numerous cattle dead from disease, starvation and accidents littering the landscape. In 1999, the first pack to be trapped and removed, the Pipestem Pack, apparently scavenged on already-dead cattle in the Apache National Forest before beginning to kill cattle. Their removal resulted in the inadvertent deaths of three pups from amongst the first litter of Mexican wolf pups to be born in the wild.
Later that same year, the government also trapped and removed the Mule Pack from Arizona after the pack scavenged on a cow and horse left dead on the national forest, in order to prevent the wolves from associating domestic animals with food. The wolves had not attacked any domestic animals. The trapping effort injured the alpha female's leg, requiring its amputation.
In 2000, the Gavilan Pack scavenged on dead cattle in an area of the Apache National Forest closed to grazing, that was being grazed in defiance of that order. Shortly afterwards, the pack began killing cattle and were recaptured.
In 2001, the Campbell Blue pair scavenged on livestock. Although the male of that pair, named "Rio" at his birth in the Wild Canid Survival and Research Center in Missouri, had spent almost three years in the wild without attacking livestock, shortly afterwards he and his mate began killing livestock also. They too are now in captivity as a result.
Today, the Center also released a government email memo indicating that the dead stock that habituated Rio were trespassing in an area of the Gila National Forest that was seasonally closed to grazing, and that the owner of that stock had forbidden Fish and Wildlife Service officials from removing the carcass thus ensuring the wolf's association of cattle with food.
Also in 2001 and 2002, the Wildcat Pack was removed from the wild. The female from that pack had been scavenging on carcasses as well.
On April 11, 2002, the last survivor of the Lupine
Pack was captured after having scavenged on carcasses. He had shown no
inclination at the time of his capture to prey on cattle.
The Mexican wolf is the most imperiled mammal in North America, reduced by a U.S. government extermination campaign to just five remaining wild animals in the mid-1970s. These last individuals were captured in Mexico (leaving no known Mexican wolves in the wild anywhere by 1980) for an emergency captive breeding program intended to rescue the species from the brink of extinction.
The Mexican wolf, as a top-level predator, effects prey behavior and distribution, and that in turn influences myriad species of plants and animals. The intent of the Endangered Species Act is to conserve "threatened and endangered species and the ecosystems of which they are a part."
"The Forest Service and BLM turn a blind eye to ranching practices that guarantee conflict between wolves and cattle," said Michael J. Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, in Pinos Altos, New Mexico. "As a result, five packs were removed from the wild and the Pipestem Pack is targeted for removal. Firmly enforced guidelines for responsible husbandry practices will prevent wolves from scavenging on livestock and thus learning to associate domestic animals with food."