Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

For Immediate Release: March 18, 2003
Contact: Michael Robinson, 505-534-0360
More Information: Mexican Wolf Web

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Reclassifies Gray Wolf Populations
Change intended to undermine possibilities for Mexican gray wolf recovery within historic range

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will shortly divide gray wolf populations and historic ranges into three distinct population segments (DPS’s) to guide future removal of wolves from federal protection and to guide the extent of future recovery activities.

The rule, to be published soon in the Federal Register, according to an announcement today (see from the Fish and Wildlife Service, will immediately down-list gray wolves throughout the United States from “endangered” to “threatened” status, except in a new Southwest DPS, where wolves will still be listed as endangered.

The final rule, although it purports to “not affect the status or management of gray wolves in the Southwest,” sets the stage for a revision of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan that would isolate populations of wolves and allow for only very limited genetic exchange between populations.

That is because the new rule creates a Southwest DPS that extends from central Mexico to northern Colorado and central Utah, including the historic range of the Mexican gray wolf in Mexico and southern Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, but also extending to Interstate 70 of Colorado and Hwy. 50 of Utah, hundreds of miles north of the historic range of the Mexican wolf.

Taxonomists have long recognized the morphological distinctness of the Mexican wolf, or lobo, which is smaller than other gray wolves and has a different dentition and skull shape. More recently, geneticists have determined that the Mexican wolf is significantly different genetically not just from other gray wolves, but also from the red wolf of the Southeast, domestic dogs and coyotes, all of which are more similar to each other than the Mexican wolf is to any of them.

A Southwest Distinct Population Segment that includes more than one subspecies is illogical because populations are lower on the taxonomic hierarchy than are subspecies. The reason FWS proposes such an illogical configuration is to set the stage in an upcoming revision of the 1982 Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan for reintroduction of Mexican wolves to Colorado, outside their historic range where they evolved, as a means to evade its responsibilities to identify additional recovery areas within the historic range where political opposition by the livestock industry is stronger.

The end result would be one population of wolves in the current reintroduction area of the Gila and Apache National Forests in respectively southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona, one population in the southern Rocky Mountains, and one population in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico.

Should this occur, eventually wolves would be delisted and the terrain between these distant populations might be barred from wolf use by state law – a continuation of the current federal regulation that prohibits wolf occupation of areas outside the Gila and Apache National Forests, and requires removal of wolves even if they’re on other national forests and BLM public lands.

The Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan does not have any criteria for removing the Mexican wolf from federal protection (ie. numbers and distribution of wolves that would trigger de-listing) – thus the need for a recovery plan revision. Conservationists in the Southwest express interest in recovering wolves in the Chihuahuan Desert of southern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona, the Sky Islands of Arizona (such as Mt. Graham and the Chiricahua Mountains), the Sacramento Mountains of southeastern New Mexico, and on the Mogollon Rim that extends between Grand Canyon National Park and the Apache National Forest where wolves currently exist.

“The federal government is gerrymandering the range of the Mexican wolf,” says Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, “in order to preclude recovery within the lobo’s historic range.”

Instead, according to Robinson, the Fish and Wildlife Service should have designated a separate DPS in Colorado for recovery of wolves there. Such a move would not have impacted the Mexican wolf’s chances of gaining recovery areas within its historic range where wolves from the Sky Islands, Mogollon Rim, Chihuahuan Desert and Sacramento Mountains would have opportunities to interbreed with wolves in the Apache and Gila National Forests.

“We will scrutinize this rule and decisions that stem from it and if necessary we will go to court to ensure Mexican wolf recovery is not handicapped,” said Robinson.

The broader wolf reclassification is flawed in other respects, as well. The Fish and Wildlife Service will use it as the basis for removing federal protections for wolves that migrate from the northern Rocky Mountains of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana to Oregon, Washington, Nevada, half of Utah and northern Colorado, where wolf management will devolve to state authorities after delisting. Wolves that appear in those states after delisting will likely be killed.


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