TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – A coalition of environmentalists claim in court that a recovery plan for the endangered Mexican gray wolf ignores the best available science on the subspecies, setting a course toward extinction for the southern-most North American wolf.
The Tuesday lawsuits – one from the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Endangered Wolf Center, Wolf Conservation Center and former U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist David Parsons; and one from WildEarth Guardians and the Western Watersheds Project – challenge a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan issued in November 2017.
“Mexican wolves urgently need more room to roam, protection from killing, and more releases of wolves into the wild to improve genetic diversity, but the Mexican wolf recovery plan provides none of these things,” Earthjustice attorney Elizabeth Forsyth, who is representing the CBD and its co-plaintiffs, said in a statement.
Ranchers and the federal government hunted the Mexican gray wolf to near extinction during America’s western migration. By the time the subspecies was listed as endangered in 1976, only seven wolves remained, all of which were in a captive breeding program, the Center said in its 26-page lawsuit.
The original 1982 recovery plan for the wolf focused on immediate survival. Starting with just three lineages – including the last known wild individuals captured in Mexico – the goal was to establish 100 wolves. From 1998-2002, FWS released 110 wolves in the western United States, but removed 58 for various reasons, according to the WildEarth Guardians and the Western Watersheds Project lawsuit.
Despite other reintroductions, in the ensuing years illegal hunting, vehicles and government killings after livestock attack claims left just 42 wolves in the wild, the WildEarth Guardians’ 25-page lawsuit says.
The final draft recovery plan underestimates the population necessary for the species to survive, and burdens areas where landowners have longstanding conflicts with the predators while ignoring vast stretches of available public land for habitat, according to the Center’s lawsuit.
To survive, the species needs at least three connected populations – including one each in the southern Rocky Mountains and the Grand Canyon region – totaling at least 750 wolves, the Center for Biological Diversity said in a news release. The designated areas for reintroduction ignore those areas and fall far short of the numbers needed for a healthy recovery, the Center claims.
According to the Western Environmental Law Center, which is representing WildEarth Guardians and the Western Watershed Project, the plan offers just two populations – one in the U.S. and one in Mexico, totaling 520 wolves – and includes an interstate highway as a habitat boundary.
“This recovery plan was designed by politicians and anti-wolf states, not by independent biologists,” Matthew Bishop of the Western Environment Law Center said in a statement. “It’s an affront to the ESA and Congress’ directive [to] make decisions solely on the best available science.”
The lawsuits ask the court to force FWS to issue a recovery plan adhering to the best available science, as the Endangered Species Act requires.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.