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Lawsuit Seeks Wolf Program Rule Changes

LAS CRUCES — The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit Wednesday in a bid to push federal wildlife officials into making rule changes, first recommended 11 years ago, to increase the population of the endangered Mexican gray wolf.

“The only wild Mexican wolf population on Earth is stagnant, and losing irreplaceable genetic diversity, because the (U.S.) Fish and Wildlife Service is ignoring the pleas of scientists and stalling on vital reforms,” said Michael Robinson, the Center’s Mexican wolf specialist.

A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman declined to comment on the litigation.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Arizona, marks the latest chapter in a yearslong effort to get the Fish and Wildlife Service to amend project rules that environmentalists and biologists say have stymied the wolf recovery effort. At the start of 2012, there were 58 wolves in national forests in southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico, far below the 100 that biologists estimated would be roaming wild by the end of 2006.

In June 2001, three years after the first release of wolves in Arizona, a review team of wolf experts recommended three key changes be made “immediately” to the program. The recommended changes included:

♦ Allowing the initial release of captive-bred wolves into the Gila National Forest in New Mexico, rather than restricting such releases to the Arizona recovery area;

♦ Allowing wolves to roam outside the boundaries of a designated recovery area; and

♦ Requiring livestock owners on public land to be responsible for the removal of cow carcasses so that wolves would not acquire a taste for beef by scavenging.

When nearly three years passed and Fish and Wildlife did not adopt any of the recommendations, the Center for Biological Diversity in March 2004 filed a formal petition urging the agency to make the changes.

After a five-year review, completed in 2005, recommended some of the same project changes and Fish and Wildlife still did not adopt them, the Center in December 2006 filed suit against the agency. The Center alleged Fish and Wildlife had violated federal law by dragging its feet on the environmental group’s 2004 petition.

The federal lawsuit was dismissed in August 2007 after Fish and Wildlife said it had started a process to consider changing the program’s management rules, even holding a series of meeting to solicit public comment. But, Robinson said, “Fish and Wildlife has had a long time to work on it, and they’ve made zero progress since 2007.”

The agency has convened a team to develop an updated wolf recovery plan that will include a new lobo population goal, among other things, but the draft is not expected to be released to the public for at least another year.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal