LAS CRUCES — Environmental advocates are bemoaning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision not to give the Mexican gray wolf a unique listing on the endangered species list, a move they say would have provided the lobo greater protection and a better shot at thriving in the wild.
The decision means that the lobo, smaller than its cousins in the north, will continue to receive federal protection as an endangered species under the current species-level listing of gray wolves.
For wolf advocates who believe that the service’s management decisions have hampered growth of the wild-roaming population of wolves in southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico, the status quo is not good news.
“… This decision is a blow to all of us who care about these beautiful animals,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, which in 2009 requested that the lobo be listed as a separate subspecies or “distinct population” so that critical habitat could be designated for the wolf under the Endangered Species Act. WildEarth Guardians and The Rewilding Institute also requested the separate listing in August 2009.
“The government has frozen releases of wolves to the wild, is currently trapping a wolf for removal, and now refuses to give the Mexican wolf the special protection it needs,” Robinson said. When Fish and Wildlife first released 11 wolves in a national forest in southeast Arizona in 1998 as part of a hotly debated reintroduction effort, biologists projected there would be 100 wolves in the 4.4-million-acre recovery area by the end of 2006. There were officially 58 wolves between Arizona and New Mexico at the end of 2011, according to the agency.
“Everyone agrees the program is struggling,” said John Horning of WildEarth Guardians. “A separate listing could have given the program a fresh start.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service said separate listing as a subspecies or distinct population was not warranted because the lobo is already receiving protection as an endangered species. It also noted that it is in the process of developing an updated Mexican wolf recovery plan, a draft of which is expected to be released for public comment and peer review in 2013.
The recovery plan could result in less restrictive federal management of wolves in the wild and establish broader recovery goals, but such proposals have already been criticized by ranchers and hunters upset by the threat wolves pose to livestock and elk.
— This article appeared on page A6 of the Albuquerque Journal