Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2016 A settlement announced Tuesday between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and several environmental groups that had filed a lawsuit over the agency’s stalled recovery plan for the Mexican gray wolf could help restart efforts to boost the endangered animal’s numbers in New Mexico and Arizona.
Under the deal, the Fish and Wildlife Service is required to develop a new wolf management plan before the year’s end.
Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement Tuesday that the new plan “should trigger new releases of captive-bred wolves into the wild and establish new Mexican wolf populations. “After four decades of delay, a scientific road map for recovery of the Mexican gray wolf will finally be a reality,” he added.
The settlement comes just a week after the federal agency announced it would move forward with wolf releases in New Mexico this summer, despite the state’s objections, and the state threatened to sue if the releases move forward.
The Mexican gray wolf was listed as endangered in 1976, but Western states, including New Mexico, have recently stalled efforts to reintroduce and protect the animal, citing the lack of a current management strategy. According to federal data, there were just 97 Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and Arizona by the end of 2015, down from 110 in 2014.
In November 2014, a group of environmental advocates filed a lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service to compel the agency to act on the long-awaited recovery plan based on current science.
Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Endangered Wolf Center, David Parsons and the Wolf Conservation Center were represented by the environmental law group Earthjustice in the suit against the federal agency and Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell, who oversees it. The state of Arizona filed a similar suit seeking a wolf management plan, and the states of Colorado and Utah, along with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, intervened in the case.
The settlement says the agency must release a new recovery plan for the Mexican gray wolf by Nov. 30, 2017. It also requires the agency to pay $56,467 in legal fees to the environmental groups.
In the ongoing debate over the federal agency’s plans to release Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico, the state has cited the lack of current science and the need for a new federal management strategy. It has twice denied the agency a permit for wolf releases.
New Mexico Game and Fish Department Director Alexa Sandoval told The New Mexican in January that releasing the wolves without a management plan would be like “driving with blinders on.”
But Fish and Wildlife has said it doesn’t need state approval to move forward with the wolf recovery plan. On April 18, it announced it would release wolves in New Mexico and Arizona this summer.
New Mexico responded with a notice of its intent to sue the federal government over the planned releases.