Center for Biological Diversity

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

Conservationists file formal petition for rule-making for Mexican wolves
Petition timed for sixth anniversary of first release on March 29, 1998

March 29, 2004

Contact: Michael Robinson 505-534-0360

On the sixth anniversary of the first release of endangered Mexican gray wolves into the wild on March 29, 1998, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal petition for rule-making with Interior Secretary Gale Norton and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Steve Williams, to save the Mexican wolf population from federal mismanagement.

The 14-page petition was filed pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act. Should the federal government fail to promulgate new regulations within one year, the Center will sue to compel compliance.

The petition requests reforms in the reintroduction program in accordance with recommendations of four independent scientists who examined the program at the behest of the Fish and Wildlife Service and in June 2001 issued an 86-page report urging immediate policy changes. The Fish and Wildlife Service has not made the changes.

The scientists stated that absent such changes wolf numbers stood a 39% chance of decline. At the time they issued their report, there were 27 radio collared and monitored wolves in the wild (plus an unknown number of uncollared wolves). Today there are 18 radio collared and monitored wolves in the wild, and that number includes nine wild-born wolves captured in the interim and outfitted with collars before release.

The Center's petition requests three changes in policy:
That the Fish and Wildlife Service be allowed to release wolves from the captive breeding program into the Gila National Forest of New Mexico. Currently, wolves can be captured from the wild and released in the Gila, but not released there for the first time. Animals born into the captive breeding program may only be released their first time into the Apache National Forest in Arizona. Wolves are sometimes injured, traumatized or even killed in capture attempts, and survivors are much less likely to live and reproduce upon release.
That the Fish and Wildlife Service be given the authority to allow wolves to establish territories outside the boundaries of the Gila and Apache National Forests. Currently, FWS is required to remove or kill such wolves, even if they are on other public lands. FWS is not required to remove any other endangered species merely for living outside a political boundary. (For example, wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains can move at will unless they are causing a specific problem.)
That owners of livestock be required to take responsibility for removing or rendering unpalatable the carcasses of cattle and horses that die of non-wolf related problems, before wolves scavenge on them and become habituated to livestock -- or if they fail to do so that the wolves are not subsequently scapegoated. In the northern Rocky Mountains, regulations protect wolves from being baited by carcasses, but not in the Southwest.
" This petition starts the clock ticking to when Fish and Wildlife will have to act," said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity's Pinos Altos, New Mexico office. "With the numbers of radio collared Mexican wolves in decline, and the entire wild population in trouble, we're letting the feds know that if they don't protect these animals, we'll see them in court."

The Mexican gray wolf is the most imperiled mammal in North America, exterminated from the U.S. by the 1920s by the predecessor agency to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and then beginning in 1950, poisoned out of Mexico by the Fish and Wildlife Service as well. After passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 in order to recover threaten and endangered species and the ecosystems upon which they depend, the last five known wild wolves were captured alive in Mexico for an emergency captive breeding program. After the Fish and Wildlife Service attempted to scuttle reintroduction, conservationists sued the agency and in 1993 obtained a settlement agreement that eventually led to the first eleven wolves being released six years ago today.

Mexican gray wolves are the engine of evolution for southwestern ecosystems. Research from other ecosystems indicates that wolves play key roles in
honing the alertness and vigor of prey species such as elk, deer, pronghorn and bighorn sheep;
preventing disease transmission by killing prey animals weakened by severe maladies before other herd members become infected;
providing carrion for scavenger animals such as badgers, eagles, ravens and bears;
helping foxes survive by killing coyotes, which in turn kill foxes and limit their numbers; and,
helping natural vegetation flourish by limiting the time spent by grazing and browsing animals in sensitive streamside areas.
In sum, there are a host of ecological adaptations in which wolves play key roles. Their elimination was part of a process of thoughtlessly crippling natural ecosystems, and their successful reintroduction is critical to restoring the balance.

The Center for Biological Diversity, with over 9,000 members, is a national non-profit organization that was founded in rural southwestern New Mexico in 1989.

Copies of the petition are available here.


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