SAVING THE MEXICAN GRAY WOLF
The smallest gray wolf subspecies in North America, the Mexican gray wolf is also one of the rarest and most endangered mammals on the continent. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (and its predecessor agency) poisoned and trapped almost all Mexican wolves from the wild from 1915 until 1973; the last five survivors, captured between 1977 and 1980, were bred in captivity and their progeny reintroduced in 1998. At the beginning of 2013, 75 Mexican gray wolves and only three Mexican wolf breeding pairs remained in the wild.
The Center has worked continuously to reintroduce the Mexican wolf to the wild and to provide it with protection from government and private persecution, beginning with a 1990 court case that led to the wolf’s eventual reintroduction. Along the way, we’ve helped defeat two livestock-industry lawsuits that sought to compel the government to trap or kill all the Mexican wolves from the wild, and we helped defeat a bill in the House of Representatives that would have terminated the reintroduction program. Our advocacy induced the government to re-release trapped wolves into the Gila National Forest, and our 2006 lawsuit led to an ongoing process to reform management of the wolf program so more wolves are left in the wild. We also petitioned in 2004 requesting the release of more captive-bred wolves. But numbers stayed small. In 2009 we filed a petition to protect Mexican wolves as a subspecies or unique "distinct population segment," which would force the Service to finally truly identify coherent goals and strategies to ensure its full recovery. When the agency ignored our petition, we sued in late 2012.
Thanks to Center litigation, in 2009 the Fish and Wildlife Service threw out a policy called SOP 13 that required the permanent removal of any wolf believed to have killed livestock three times in a year — and we continue to defend wolves from “removal” detrimental to the subspecies. The Service also reclaimed authority over wolf management, which it had previously delegated to a group hostile to recovery and largely made up of government agencies dominated by the livestock industry. After a Center petition and lawsuit, in August 2010 the Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would consider protecting the Mexican gray wolf separately from other U.S. gray wolves, as an endangered subspecies or a “distinct population segment." The next year we reached a landmark agreement with the Service compelling it to move forward on improved protections for the wolf, along with protections for 756 other species. But the agency made no progress on protecting the Mexican wolf as a subspecies or distinct population segment, so in December 2012, we sued.
Listing the wolf under the Endangered Species Act separately from other gray wolves would require the development of an updated federal recovery plan, including a long-term plan for establishing new populations. Through our work, we’ve educated thousands of people about the crucial ecological role of wolves and rallied the public to oppose the policies leading to ongoing government shooting and trapping of Mexican wolves.
To spur true recovery for all gray wolves, in 2010 the Center filed a scientific petition and notice of intent to sue to compel the Obama administration to develop a national recovery plan that would establish wolf populations in suitable habitat in the Pacific Northwest, California, southern Rockies, New England and Colorado Plateau.