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Feds sued to force recovery of endangered Mexican gray wolf

The groups claim that the wolf’s genome diversity is one of the lowest of endangered species, second only to the black-footed ferret.

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) — Conservation groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday to demand recognition and compliance with new measures to recover the Mexican gray wolf population.

Once numbering in the thousands, the Mexican gray wolf stretched across greater Arizona, Texas and New Mexico until government-sponsored predator killing curbed their numbers to approximately 200.

In 1975, Fish and Wildlife listed the Mexican gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act. The agency has since struggled to propel the species to self-sustaining levels.

According to the federal complaint filed in Tucson, Arizona, by the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife, a chief reason for the wolf's lack of self-sufficiency is that the animal lacks roaming capabilities due to a Fish and Wildlife Service-imposed boundary.

“[Scientists] recommended the creation of a ‘metapopulation’ of wolves — consisting of at least three spatially separate but interconnected Mexican wolf populations — for sustainable recovery, yet the service has prescribed a single, isolated Mexican wolf population in the United States and imposed an arbitrary northern boundary on the wild Mexican wolf range, keeping the wolves from accessing promising recovery habitat elsewhere in the Southwest,” the groups say in their lawsuit.

They believe the agency, compelled by bureaucratic and business pressures, prescribed a northern border relegating the wolf population to a single area of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico.

“[The] service has repeatedly declined to follow the best scientific guidance to achieve long-term Mexican wolf recovery in deference to political pressure from state wildlife officials and the livestock industry,” the groups claim.

According to the lawsuit, a northern border inhibits the proliferation and diversity of the species and forces an inbreeding issue that affects its virality.

“The population remains isolated and extremely genetically depressed: on average, any two wolves are about as closely related to each other as full siblings. This carries significant threats for the long-term viability of the population, as genetically depressed wolves have reduced reproductive success and disease resistance, and suffer from numerous cumulative health problems,” the groups say in their complaint.

They claim the wolf’s genome diversity is among the lowest of endangered species, second only to the black-footed ferret since the population is traceable to just seven individuals. They say the service's target population retains the genetic material of only two individual founders.

The conservation groups say the population further trends toward apathy due to a lack of predatory initiative brought on by industry.

“Currently, the service manages a supplemental feeding program that mitigates — and conceals the extent of — inbreeding impacts on the wild population,” the lawsuit says. “Through this program, FWS provides food caches ‘to localize [wild wolves’] movements to an area and decrease the likelihood of depredation behavior of nearby livestock.’ … FWS has recently been providing supplemental feeding to approximately [70%] of breeding pairs in the wild Mexican wolf population to reduce conflicts with livestock operations within the wolves’ territory.”

The groups claim years of litigation changed the agency's prescribed population cap to a population objective and genetic practices to genetic objectives through a practice of obfuscation via creative legalese in the new management rule.

“Instead of increasing the number of ‘effective migrants’ adequately to address genetic threats, FWS establishes a ‘genetic objective’ that replaces ‘effective migrant’ as a benchmark of genetic management with a new metric focusing on released wolves that merely survive to breeding age—regardless of whether the released wolves actually reproduce and thereby contribute to the wild population’s genetic integrity,” the lawsuit alleges.

The groups seek a declaration that Fish and Wildlife violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to properly sustain the Mexican gray wolf population.

“We are deeply concerned that FWS continues to disregard the recommendations and concerns of top scientists and the harmful impacts this inaction is having on recovery,” said Craig Miller, a senior Southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife, in a statement. “Mexican wolves, ranchers and the public would all benefit from the increased coordination that comes with ‘essential’ status and by allowing wolves back into suitable habitats where there are few opportunities for conflict. Instead, the new rule prevents necessary expansion and confines a single population to an area with much unsuitable habitat and a high likelihood of conflict.”

Fish and Wildlife did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife are represented by Timothy Preso and Sharmeen Morrison of Earthjustice.

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