Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Greens Fight Uncle Sam Over Gray Wolves

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) - Endangered wolves that wander into Arizona and New Mexico from the north and south risk indefinite capture under research permits the federal government issued illegally, the Center for Biological Diversity claims in court.
     The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Secretary of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife in Federal Court.
     The Tucson-based environmental group claims the defendants approved a permit in 2011 under which "endangered wolves that enter Arizona and New Mexico from Mexico or the Northern Rocky Mountains population can be captured or trapped and relocated to the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area (where they will be treated for all purposes as part of the nonessential experimental population), returned to Mexico, or placed indefinitely in a captive breeding facility." (Parentheses in complaint.)
     Essentially, any wolf found in those states, outside the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in the Apache National Forest of Arizona and the Gila National Forest of New Mexico, is subject to trapping under the permit, the complaint states.
     The government justified the sweeping new authority with a biological opinion stating that the risks of capture are "outweighed by the beneficial effects on the species' survival and recovery by reducing human and livestock conflicts within the action area," according to the complaint.
     But the Center for Biological Diversity says that such "capture and translocation or indefinite captivity of endangered wolves authorized by Permit TE-091551-7 does not serve a scientific purpose or to enhance the propagation or survival of the Mexican gray wolf," and that the permit was approved without public comment.
     The Mexican gray wolf, a relatively small, desert-adapted species, was reintroduced into the Southwest in 1998, but the program has had many setbacks.
     "Since the Mexican wolf reintroduction program commenced, at least 46 wolves have been killed by poachers and another 14 have been struck and killed by vehicles, with many of those strikes not reported as required under the January 12, 1998 experimental, nonessential rule," the complaint states. "These losses further impair recovery of the Mexican gray wolf. Strikingly, this high level of law-breaking coincides with the federal trapping and shooting program which is largely premised on conciliating wolf opponents and thereby reducing illegal killings."
     The complaint adds: "There have thus been an estimated 93 human-caused wolf deaths since reintroduction began, while a total of 101 captive-born wolves have been released in the wild. The high rate of human-caused mortality and removal has prevented the Mexican gray wolf from reaching the interim population objective of 100 wolves, and the 18-breeding-pair projection set by the FWS, and has also rendered the reintroduced population vulnerable to extirpation from any uptick in the already high mortality rate, exacerbated by the inbreeding-caused low rate of natural population growth."
     The permit, if allowed to stand, will add to the deaths and undermine the program further, making it difficult for wolf populations to gain a foothold, the Center says.
     "The Intra-Service Biological Opinion ... understates the risk of injury and death due to capture and translocation," the complaint states. "On the Center's information and belief, 18 wolves of the 'experimental, non-essential' population have died as a consequence of capture efforts, indicating that the risk of injury or death due to capture and translocation is significant."
     The group seeks declaratory relief stating that the permit and the biological opinion violate the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
     "The permit is likely to result in additional take of endangered wolves, both directly through the effects of capture and translocation or indefinite captivity and also indirectly through the effects of lethal take if endangered wolves are translocated to the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area," according to the complaint.
     The Center is represented by house counsel John Buse in San Francisco and Amy Atwood in Portland, Ore.