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Greens Sue USA to Protect Gray Wolves

TUCSON (CN) - Environmental groups on Friday sued the Secretary of the Interior for calling the endangered Mexican gray wolf an "experimental population," and allowing them to be killed.

The Fish and Wildlife Service's treatment of the Mexican gray wolf as an experimental population limits the number of the wolves in the wild and lets them be killed, the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife.

They sued Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, challenging a revised rule placing a cap on the wolf population and allowing the wolves to be captured and killed.

The 83 wolves that live in a small area of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico have "not flourished, in significant part because, to date, FWS has imposed numerous restrictions on the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program that impede efforts to bring this rare subspecies back from the brink of extinction," the groups say.

Under agency rules, "introduction of captive Mexican gray wolves into the wild is infrequent; Mexican gray wolves are constrained to an arbitrary geography; and the killing and removal of Mexican gray wolves - regardless of those wolves' genetic significance to the population - is widespread," the complaint states.

The Mexican gray wolf has been listed under the Endangered Species Act since 1976. The U.S. subspecies was believed to have been reduced to seven until they were placed in a captive breeding program and reintroduced in the wild in 1998.

"Even if wolf numbers in the reintroduced population have increased in the past year, they remain far below the numbers that experts recommend as necessary to ensure successful recovery of the wolf," the lawsuit states.

The Fish and Wildlife Service's new rule "imposes limitations on both the size of the experimental population and the geographic range of the Mexican gray wolf that conflict with the conclusions of recognized wolf experts," the complaint states.

It adds: "The revised rule also loosens provisions governing the removal or killing of Mexican gray wolves, depressing both wolf numbers and genetic diversity."

The environmentalists say wolf experts have stressed the importance of increasing the number and distribution of the Mexican gray wolf in the wild.

However, "Rather than allowing for sufficient growth of the Mexican gray wolf population, FWS instead imposed a population cap of 300-325 individuals in the Blue Range population," the lawsuit states.

Instead of preparing a comprehensive "blueprint" for the wolf, the Fish and Wildlife Service has "acceded to demands by Arizona state wildlife officials for new limitations on the Mexican gray wolf population and its range, as well as demands for increased wolf removal to protect deer and elk, the wolves' natural prey, based on determinations by state officials that the wolf's impacts on deer or elk are 'unacceptable,'" the groups say.

The claim the revised rule violates the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act because the feds failed to "incorporate, the best available science in its environmental impact statement, and its failure to analyze reasonable, scientifically supported alternatives, violate NEPA and ultimately undermine the wolves' recovery."

The groups seek declaratory judgment that the revised rule violates the NEPA and want it set aside.

They are represented by Timothy J. Preso with Earthjustice in Bozeman, Mont.

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