News For Immediate Release, May 1, 2008
Joe Vickless, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-0237, firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity, (575) 534-0360, email@example.com
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club – Grand Canyon Chapter, (602) 253-8633, firstname.lastname@example.org
Matt Kenna, Western Environmental Law Center, (970) 385-6941, email@example.com
Greta Anderson, Western Watersheds Project, (520) 623-1878, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kim Vacariu, Wildlands Project, (575) 557-0155, email@example.com
U.S. Wildlife Officials Failing to Conserve Mexican Wolf
11 Conservation Groups Intervening to
Ensure Wolf Recovery Is Agency's Priority
TUCSON, Ariz.– With only 52 Mexican gray wolves left in the wild, a number of conservation organizations are asking an Arizona federal court to direct the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to take back their leadership responsibilities for the Mexican wolf reintroduction effort and make wolf conservation a priority.
Those organizations include Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, New Mexico Audubon Council, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club, Southwest Environmental Center, The Wildlands Project, University of New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Western Environmental Law Center and Western Watershed Project.
In a suit filed today, the groups are challenging FWS’s decision to create an oversight committee to manage reintroduction efforts, under which FWS has relinquished its powers to other governmental agencies rather than maintaining final authority in FWS to recover Mexican wolves. In addition, the groups are challenging FWS’s approval of a rule requiring immediate, often lethal, removal of wolves known or likely to have committed three depredations on domestic livestock within a one-year period.
Specifically, the organizations are challenging FWS’s creation of the Adaptive Management Oversight Committee (AMOC) and the approval of Standard Operating Procedure 13 (SOP 13). AMOC is composed of USDA Wildlife Services, which traps and shoots wolves, Arizona Department of Game and Fish, New Mexico Game and Fish Department, U.S. Forest Service, the White Mountain Apache Tribe and FWS.
AMOC has taken over management of the reintroduction effort to ensure the recovery of the Mexican wolf, but since its creation in 2003, wolf removals have increased significantly—19 wolves were removed in 2007 alone—and the wild wolf population has declined in three out of the past four years.
SOP 13 requires the removal of wolves that are known or suspected to have killed livestock on three separate occasions during a one-year span. This rule has resulted in a significant increase in the removal of wolves from the wild since its approval in 2005, and is in direct opposition to the recommendations made by scientists contracted by FWS to review the reintroduction program. Removal, both lethal and non-lethal, under SOP 13 is now the leading cause of wolf removals from the wild. Defenders and their co-plaintiffs cite SOP 13 as the most obvious and egregious example of how AMOC has fundamentally reshaped the framework under which FWS had been previously successfully recovering the wild Mexican wolf population.
The conservation organizations are hoping that this case will stop the indiscriminate removal of wolves under the current regulations and bring control of the program back to FWS, which, prior to the creation of AMOC, was successfully increasing the wild population.
“If management practices continue as they have under AMOC, we could see the second extinction of Mexican wolves in the wild,” said Craig Miller, Southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “We firmly believe in the involvement of the tribes, states and others stakeholders, but clearly Fish and Wildlife Service needs to take ultimate responsibility for this program and make wolf conservation a priority.”
“Transferring recovery responsibilities to an unaccountable bureaucracy that answers to the livestock industry has resulted in an eradication program masquerading as a recovery program. That’s not good enough for North America’s most imperiled mammal, the Mexican wolf. We won’t let it stand, ” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The bottom line is the recovery of this highly endangered animal is being hindered by these procedures that promote their removal rather than their restoration to the land,” said Sandy Bahr, Conservation Outreach Director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “That is contrary to the Endangered Species Act and contrary to the wishes of the American public.”
“The wolves need the full protections of the Endangered Species Act in order to recover and they are just not getting it under the current arrangement,” said Matt Kenna of the Western Environmental Law Center.
“It’s not possible to simultaneously restore and remove Mexican gray wolves. The balance has been tipping away from recovery, which goes against the goal of the Endangered Species Act and the mandate of the Fish and Wildlife Service.” Greta Anderson, Arizona Director Western Watersheds Project
“With only 50% of the population recovery goal achieved by the target date, it is counterintuitive to pursue punitive measures like SOP 13 that will actually reverse on-the-ground gains,” says Kim Vacariu, Western Director for the Wildlands Project. “Instead, USFWS should be taking the lead in pursuing creative, non-lethal wolf recovery strategies that implement the original intent of the Endangered Species Act.”
Mexican wolves were first reintroduced to the Southwest in 1998. Eleven wolves were released in the Blue Range wolf Recovery Area in the Apache National Forest in Eastern Arizona. According to FWS’s 2007 survey, there were only 52 individuals in the wild at the end of that year, which falls well below the agency’s goal of 100 wolves by 2006.
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.
The Center for Biological Diversity, with 40,000 members and based in Tucson, Arizona with an auxiliary office at the edge of the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in New Mexico, is dedicated to conserving endangered species and their ecosystems.
Plaintiff New Mexico Audubon Council represents the four National Audubon Chapters in New Mexico, with over 4,000 members. Our members are deeply committed to preserving birds and other wildlife and restoring natural ecosystems, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity. For over three years the Mexican Gray Wolf has been one of our highest-priority conservation issues. Our members have been advocates on behalf of the Mexican Wolf since before they were re-introduced into New Mexico and Arizona.
The Western Environmental Law Center is a nonprofit public interest law firm that works to protect and restore western wildlands and advocates for a healthy environment on behalf of communities throughout the West.
Western Watersheds Project Is A Regional Conservation Organization Working To Protect And Restore Western Watersheds And Wildlife. WWP has an office in Tucson, Arizona. www.westernwatersheds.org
Plaintiff WILDLANDS PROJECT is an international, non-profit organization the mission of which is to protect North America's native animals and plants by working with land managers, local communities, and other partners to create a science-based network of connected wildlife habitat. See www.wildlandsproject.org.