Conservationists file formal petition for rule-making for Mexican wolves
Petition timed for sixth anniversary of first release
on March 29, 1998
March 29, 2004
Contact: Michael Robinson
On the sixth anniversary of the first release of endangered
Mexican gray wolves into the wild on March 29,
1998, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal petition
for rule-making with Interior Secretary Gale Norton and U.S. Fish
Service director Steve Williams, to save the Mexican wolf population
from federal mismanagement.
The 14-page petition was filed pursuant to the Administrative Procedures
Act. Should the federal government fail to promulgate new regulations
within one year, the Center will sue to compel compliance.
The petition requests reforms in the reintroduction program in accordance
with recommendations of four independent scientists who examined the
program at the behest of the Fish and Wildlife Service and in June
2001 issued an 86-page report urging immediate policy changes. The
Fish and Wildlife Service has not made the changes.
The scientists stated that absent such changes wolf numbers stood
a 39% chance of decline. At the time they issued their report, there
were 27 radio collared and monitored wolves in the wild (plus an unknown
number of uncollared wolves). Today there are 18 radio collared and
monitored wolves in the wild, and that number includes nine wild-born
wolves captured in the interim and outfitted with collars before release.
The Center's petition requests three changes in policy:
That the Fish and Wildlife Service be allowed to release wolves from
the captive breeding program into the Gila National Forest of New
Mexico. Currently, wolves can be captured from the wild and released
in the Gila, but not released there for the first time. Animals born
into the captive breeding program may only be released their first
time into the Apache National Forest in Arizona. Wolves are sometimes
injured, traumatized or even killed in capture attempts, and survivors
are much less likely to live and reproduce upon release.
That the Fish and Wildlife Service be given the authority to allow
wolves to establish territories outside the boundaries of the Gila
and Apache National Forests. Currently, FWS is required to remove or
kill such wolves, even if they are on other public lands. FWS is not
required to remove any other endangered species merely for living outside
a political boundary. (For example, wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains
can move at will unless they are causing a specific problem.)
That owners of livestock be required to take responsibility for removing
or rendering unpalatable the carcasses of cattle and horses that die
of non-wolf related problems, before wolves scavenge on them and become
habituated to livestock -- or if they fail to do so that the wolves
are not subsequently scapegoated. In the northern Rocky Mountains,
regulations protect wolves from being baited by carcasses, but not
in the Southwest.
This petition starts the clock ticking to when Fish and Wildlife will
have to act," said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological
Diversity's Pinos Altos, New Mexico office. "With the numbers
of radio collared Mexican wolves in decline, and the entire wild population
in trouble, we're letting the feds know that if they don't protect
these animals, we'll see them in court."
The Mexican gray wolf is the most imperiled mammal in North America,
exterminated from the U.S. by the 1920s by the predecessor agency to
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and then beginning in 1950, poisoned
out of Mexico by the Fish and Wildlife Service as well. After passage
of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 in order to recover threaten
and endangered species and the ecosystems upon which they depend, the
last five known wild wolves were captured alive in Mexico for an emergency
captive breeding program. After the Fish and Wildlife Service attempted
to scuttle reintroduction, conservationists sued the agency and in
1993 obtained a settlement agreement that eventually led to the first
eleven wolves being released six years ago today.
Mexican gray wolves are the engine of evolution for southwestern ecosystems.
Research from other ecosystems indicates that wolves play key roles
honing the alertness and vigor of prey species such as elk, deer, pronghorn
and bighorn sheep;
preventing disease transmission by killing prey animals weakened by
severe maladies before other herd members become infected;
providing carrion for scavenger animals such as badgers, eagles, ravens
helping foxes survive by killing coyotes, which in turn kill foxes
and limit their numbers; and,
helping natural vegetation flourish by limiting the time spent by grazing
and browsing animals in sensitive streamside areas.
In sum, there are a host of ecological adaptations in which wolves
play key roles. Their elimination was part of a process of thoughtlessly
crippling natural ecosystems, and their successful reintroduction is
critical to restoring the balance.
The Center for Biological Diversity, with over 9,000 members, is a
national non-profit organization that was founded in rural southwestern
New Mexico in 1989.
Copies of the petition are available here.
releases. . .