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Top Biologists Say Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan Ignores ESA Requirements

Politics, not science, dictating limited recovery area and drastically reduced population goals

PHOENIX (August 31, 2017) – Many of the nation’s top Mexican wolf recovery biologists have submitted comments blasting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) recently released Draft Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan.

“The draft recovery plan will not lead to recovery of the Mexican wolf, unless it is significantly altered to address at least some of the shortcomings identified….,” said Dr. Mike Phillips, executive director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund. “If the final plan is a close reflection of the draft, then I am predicting that it will set the Mexican wolf adrift for decades without ever approaching the shore of recovery.”

The experts’ consistent critique is that the Plan does not rely on the best available science. One of the scientists’ major concerns includes the USFWS’s plan to exclude viable recovery habitat north of Interstate 40 in Arizona and New Mexico.

Over the past 14 years, science advisors to the USFWS’s official wolf recovery teams have repeatedly concluded that recovery would require three interconnected populations of Mexican wolves in the United States on both sides of I-40, including habitat in southern Colorado, northern New Mexico and the Grand Canyon ecoregion of northern Arizona and Southern Utah. The Draft Plan, however, limits recovery to only those areas south of I-40.

The Society for Conservation Biology of North America and the American Society of Mammalogists, two highly respected, professional scientific organizations, voiced serious concern that the Plan’s several flaws—including limiting recovery of the critically endangered Mexican wolf to areas south of I-40—“overshadowed” any positive aspects of the Draft Plan.

Dr. Phillips of the Turner Endangered Species Fund rejected “in the strongest terms possible” the “woefully inadequate” Draft Recovery Plan. He emphasized that including northern New Mexico and southern Colorado in the Mexican wolf recovery region “was supported by the best scientific and commercial data available and was required to achieve recovery.”

Dave Parsons, The Rewilding Institute’s Carnivore Conservation Biologist and former USFWS first Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator, pointed out in his comments about the Draft Plan that “suitable habitats necessary for recovery of Mexican wolves lying north of I-40 in the U.S. have been unscientifically and politically excluded from consideration and must be reconsidered.” He emphatically requested that “the revised recovery plan include measures to restore wolves to suitable habitats north of I-40” as identified by the preponderance of experts in wolf recovery.

In addition to the Plan’s exclusion of suitable habitat north of I-40, scientists also took issue with the recovery population sizes included in the Plan. Previous scientific recommendations required a minimum of three U.S. primary core populations with a total metapopulation of at least 750 individual wolves. The Draft Plan calls for one U.S. wolf population between 320 and 380 wolves—just half the number urged by the agency’s own scientists just five years earlier—as necessary for recovery.

Dr. Richard Fredrickson, a 30-year veteran working with endangered species as a wildlife manager and researcher, reiterated concerns that “the Plan does not rely on the best available science.” He described in detail how the population viability computer model (PVA), a tool used to predict the population size needed to ensure the long-term survival of Mexican wolves, “is flawed,” and that rather than evaluating a range of scenarios resulting in wolf recovery, instead “appears to be constructed to affirm the desires of the four-corners states, in regards to location and sizes of potential Mexican wolf populations.”

Dr. Carlos Carroll of the Klamath Center for Conservation Research, whose experience includes two decades as a research scientist focused on population viability and habitat analysis, said in his comments that the Plan “incorporates overly optimistic and inaccurate parameters” and does not “represent best available science and thus [does] not meet the requirements of the [Endangered Species Act].”

These and other concerns related to the apparent misuse and disregard for the best available science are expressed in many comments.  To view comments, go to www.regulations.gov and enter FWS-R2-ES-2017-0036.

You can also read Wildlands Network’s official comments on the USFWS Draft Recovery Plan below.

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Contact: Kim Crumbo, Conservation Director, crumbo@wildlandsnetwork.org, 928-606-5850

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