Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 25, 2017

Contact: Michael Robinson, (575) 313-7017,

Appeals Court Green-lights Much-needed Wolf Releases in New Mexico

Ruling Boosts Recovery of Mexican Gray Wolves

DENVER— The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals today struck down a district-court injunction that stopped releases of endangered Mexican gray wolves into the wild in New Mexico.

The ruling, won by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and conservation groups, reinstates the federal agency's authority to release wolves from captivity into the wild despite state objections. The new animals will infuse the wild population with much-needed genetic diversity and help make it self-sustaining.

The unanimous ruling stated that “The [New Mexico Game] Department failed to present sufficient evidence to support a finding that it is likely to suffer irreparable harm absent a preliminary injunction. As a result, the district court abused its discretion in granting the Department's request for injunctive relief. We therefore REVERSE and VACATE the district court's order enjoining Federal Appellants from importing and releasing (1) any Mexican gray wolves into the State without first obtaining the requisite state permits, and (2) any Mexican gray wolf offspring into the State in violation of prior state permits, and REMAND to the district court for further proceedings not inconsistent with this Opinion.”

“This ruling is a lifesaver for our beleaguered Mexican gray wolves,” said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The decision makes clear that the Fish and Wildlife Service has the authority to do what's needed to save the Mexican gray wolf and other endangered species from extinction.”

Today's ruling overturned an injunction issued last June after the Fish and Wildlife Service “cross-fostered” two captive-born wolf pups into a wild pack's den on the Gila National Forest, defying a New Mexico ban on wolf releases. Release of newborn pups taken from their parents, though experimental, was thought to be less controversial than releasing family packs together, although the latter technique has been used with widespread success. In this instance the pups did not survive, though 3 out of 4 other new-born pups released almost simultaneously into Arizona wolf dens did survive.

Gov. Susana Martinez's administration filed suit and quickly won an injunction on further releases, which was overturned today. The Center and other organizations, represented by Defenders of Wildlife, intervened in the case on the side of the federal government in support of wolf releases.

The Center's 2004 petition for rulemaking, followed by 2006 and 2012 lawsuits, led to a 2015 federal rule providing the Fish and Wildlife Service with the authority to release captive-bred wolves in New Mexico. Previously, only wild-caught wolves could be released (“translocated”) into the state. This year the agency intends to release two family groups in the Gila National Forest and up to 10 pups to be cross-fostered into wild wolf dens in Arizona and New Mexico.

“The federal government should now quickly move wolves back into the vast wild areas of the Gila, America's first protected wilderness,” said Robinson. “In this elk-filled forest, new wolves could replenish the existing population's genetic diversity. They could also help maintain a natural balance in an era in which, all over the world, ecological processes such as predation are rapidly disappearing.”

At last count in January, Arizona and New Mexico supported 113 wolves in the wild.  Approximately 30 live in the wild in Mexico. In addition, 251 wolves are held in captivity among 51 zoos and specialized institutions, but most of those are too old or otherwise unsuitable for breeding or release. In the wild and in captivity, pups will be born toward the end of April and early May.

All Mexican gray wolves in the world stem from just seven animals captured from the wild and successfully bred. These animals were the only survivors of a U.S. government trapping and poisoning program carried out from 1915 to 1972 on behalf of the livestock industry, including from 1950 onward in Mexico as a U.S. foreign-aid project.

Those surviving wolves' descendants were reintroduced into Arizona and New Mexico beginning in 1998 and in Mexico beginning in 2011, but U.S. regulations forbade the release of captive-raised wolves — despite approving the release of wild-caught wolves — in New Mexico until promulgation of the 2015 rule.

Scientists have linked faltering reproductive success — small litter sizes and few pups living to maturity — in the reintroduced U.S. population to the loss, including to federal trapping and shooting on behalf of the livestock industry, of genetically important wolves, compounded by the rarity of releases of captive wolves into the wild. Experts have recommended stronger wolf protections in the wild, which the Fish and Wildlife Service refuses, and the releases of genetically-diverse wolves into southwestern New Mexico where there is high-quality but unoccupied wolf habitat — for which today's ruling reinstates authority.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.2 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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