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The USFWS Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan Is a Plan for Extinction

Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the government agency in charge of planning and facilitating endangered species recovery in the United States, released a draft recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves, known as “lobos.” Wildlands Network has been preparing for this moment for a very long time. We expected to be disappointed by many of the components of the recovery plan, as well as its overall vision. Unfortunately, USFWS met our expectations.

We have the opportunity to tell the USFWS how disappointing their plan is. Submit comments to the USFWS by Tuesday, August 29, letting them know their proposal is a plan for extinction, not recovery.

Wolves in North America

A lone Mexican wolf moves through green vegetation, with the photo blurred to show that the wolf is in motion.
The Mexican wolf is rare and highly endangered on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border. Photo: Juan Carlos Bravo

To understand the flaws in the draft recovery plan, it’s helpful to have a bit of history.

The saga of wolves in North America is long and mostly sad. They once roamed all across the continent, with differences in climate, food source and geography leading to many different subspecies, like red wolves in the East and a range of gray wolf types (like “timber wolves” in Minnesota and Mexican wolves along the borderlands) extending from Alaska to Mexico.

However, pretty much as soon as humans started widespread colonization of the U.S., largely through agricultural development, wolves were effectively exterminated in the lower 48 states, with the exception of a small surviving population in Minnesota.

Similar mass slaughters of wolves plague human history going back to the Pleistocene. This should not be surprising – as a species, we have a compulsion for killing anything perceived as negatively impacting our livelihoods.[1]

Looking back, then, it’s pretty surprising that Mexican wolves still exist at all. Humans have inhabited the U.S.-Mexico borderlands region for a very long time, and they’ve been raising domestic animals – and shooting wolves – there for centuries. As luck would have it, a few Mexican wolves managed to stay alive in Mexico, and it’s those survivors that are the ancestors of all the current Mexican wolves, including those released in the wild.

USFWS’s Proposed Recovery Plan

To successfully foster the continued survival of this nearly-exterminated species, we believe this plan should include three fundamental tenets:

  1. Successful recovery must be defined as breeding, stable wild population sizes based on best available science on landscape carrying capacity (essentially how much prey and territory for wolves exist) in both the United States and Mexico;
  2. Robust coordination between agencies in the United States and Mexico, resulting in a truly bi-national conservation plan, must be assured;
  3.  Suitable wolf habitat north of I-40 in the Grand Canyon and Southern Rockies ecoregions (extending into southern Utah, northern New Mexico, and southern Colorado) must be incorporated into the recovery area for Mexican wolves.
This closeup shot shows a Mexican gray wolf from the chest up. He's looking straight at the camera, with his ears - tinged with brown fur - pointed straight up.
A Mexican wolf, or “lobo.” Photo: Robin Silver Photography

Without these three things, meaningful and successful long-term recovery cannot happen. The current draft plan does not adequately address these issues. At best, a plan that lacks them ensures that Mexican wolves may persist in central Arizona and New Mexico, and perhaps Mexico for a couple of generations, but full recovery in the wild will falter. And the wolves that are left will remain seriously disadvantaged and affected by continued inbreeding. While preserving captive wolves remains a critical aspect of a recovery effort, it is a naturally evolving, wild population that will survive in an uncertain world experiencing increasing human impacts, including climate change.

Scientists from past recovery teams consistently advocated for at least 850 wolves in three connected populations – 750 in the U.S. with the possibility of a separate population of at least 100 in Mexico. This draft plan calls for one population of 350 wolves in the U.S. – less than half the minimum number called for by the best scientific information, and excluding habitat north of I-40 considered essential for the survival of the lobo. As written, the draft plan is a recipe for extinction, not recovery.

Fundamentally, we want to ensure that Mexican wolf recovery continues to be a bi-national effort based on science and on-the-ground research, as the Endangered Species Act intended. And we want to see wolves thriving across the Western Wildway, which means populations of the different subspecies connecting at the edges of their ranges. This vision is critical to the success of our efforts to rewild North America.

Take Action for Mexican Wolves

Take action today to make sure your voice is heard! Until August 29, we have the opportunity to tell the USFWS that we do not believe their plan allows for long-term, successful recovery of Mexican wolves and that we support science-driven wolf management. Submit your comments now!

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[1] It’s important to note that current perceptions that wolves threaten livestock owners’ livelihoods are not supported by on-the-ground reality. Predation, mostly from coyotes – not wolves – accounts for less than 5% of all livestock losses in western states. And a significant number of studies show that time-tested animal husbandry practices, including active shepherding, use of guard dogs, and other measures, can reduce livestock losses by up to 90% or more. The leading causes of death (the other 95% of loses) to livestock on the range are weather, calving deaths and health problems.

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