Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Feds, states, scientists push for new Mexican wolf recovery plan

Officials from the Four Corners states and Mexico, along with independent scientists, gathered in Arizona this month for a closed-door meeting with the U.S. government that could set the tone for the Mexican wolf recovery effort going forward.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, tasked with reintroducing the Mexican wolf in New Mexico and Arizona, is embarking again on an effort to write a recovery plan that will serve as a road map to eventually removing the lobo from the endangered species list.

The four-day meeting on a ranch outside Tucson, confirmed to the Journal by Fish and Wildlife, capped a tense year between the service and New Mexico after the state Game Commission tried to block wolf releases and the service responded by saying it would use its federal authority to go forward with the recovery program anyway.

“The purpose of the workshop was to identify a way forward in our developing of a revised Mexican wolf recovery plan,” said Fish and Wildlife spokesman Jeff Humphrey in an emailed response to questions. “We didn’t focus on developing consensus; just gathering of scientific information and identifying where there is consensus and divergence among participants.”

Fish and Wildlife has convened recovery planning teams on three occasions since the original – now badly outdated – recovery plan was released in 1982, but all three efforts fell apart for one reason or another.

The December workshop brought together representatives from state game agencies, field biologists and representatives of Mexican federal natural resources agencies, Humphrey said.

The governors of the Four Corners states – New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah – sent an eight-page letter in November, obtained by the Journal, to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Fish and Wildlife Director Daniel Ashe expressing “serious concerns” about how the service intends to develop a recovery plan for the Mexican wolf.

Chief among them are the extent of the range where wolves may roam and the number of wild wolves required before the species may be removed from the endangered list.

“The service does not have any predetermined outcomes for the revised recovery plan, and we are looking forward to working with participants in a collaborative fashion,” Humphrey said. “The issues raised in the governors’ letter will continue to be considered as we move forward with the revision of the Mexican wolf recovery plan.”

The governors also underscored their position that the majority of the recovery effort should occur in Mexico, not the southwestern U.S.

There were 110 Mexican wolves in the wild across parts of eastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, according to Fish and Wildlife’s last count. Wolf releases began in 1998.

Wolf advocates say the wild population, even as it has grown in numbers, is genetically frail due to inbreeding.

Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said the service should go back to the last draft recovery plan instead of starting the process over again. “The Fish and Wildlife Service should release the 2012 draft recovery plan for scientific peer review and public comment instead of holding closed-door meetings with states seeking to undermine the Mexican wolf recovery program,” he said.

The recovery program has detractors in the ranching and farming industries, and among residents in the rural recovery areas, as wolves – apex predators – have been known to prey on cattle and approach populated areas.

Humphrey said the service plans to develop a “revised recovery plan for the Mexican wolf that is legally sufficient and science-based by the end of 2017.”