Recently the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Mexican Wolf team held informational meetings in Flagstaff and Pinetop in Arizona plus two more in New Mexico on the revised recovery plan that was released on June 29, 2017. Both states have had Mexican wolf populations in the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area (MWEPA) since 1998. This newly drafted plan is an update to the original one formulated in 1982. FWS is seeking public input through a public comment period which is open through August 29, 2017.
The 1982 Recovery Plan listed a goal of 100 wolves in the wild. However, according to the FWS wolf team and other sources, there was no set criteria outlined in the document defining when the species could be delisted as an endangered species.
A 2015 lawsuit filed by the Arizona Attorney General and Arizona Game & Fish Department (AZGFD) as well as other entities, requested an updated plan that included what constitutes the recovery of the animal to meet the stipulations in the Endangered Species Act and therefore be delisted as an Endangered Species. FWS was required by an out of court settlement to complete an updated recovery plan as of November 30, 2017. This new plan does contain these stipulations.
I attended the July 19, 2017 meeting in Pinetop and thus my notes are reflective of that meeting. Representing FWS were Maggie Dwire, Sherry Barrett, Tracy Melbihess, John Oakleaf and Ryan Owen. Phil Miller of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, who assisted with the plan in the area of the viability analysis modeling for recovery of the species, was the moderator. His work is in the Draft Biological Report listed as Appendix A, which are supplemental documents available to read online. Maggie Dwire opened the program with the comment that the program is making a big, wide turn. She then went on to give about a 30-minute dissertation on the history of the Mexican wolf recovery program and a summary of what the 2017 Plan encompasses. Afterward, Phil Miller took the mic and opened the floor to questions.
Highlights of the 2017 Recovery Plan:
- The recovery strategy is to “establish and maintain a minimum of two resilient, genetically diverse Mexican wolf populations” distributed across areas in the U.S. and Mexico. The plan is to ensure “resiliency, representation and redundancy” to downlist or delist the Mexican wolf.
- Actions would include managing and monitoring wolves in the wild, including implementing proactive conflict avoidance measures; conducting releases (including cross-fostering) and translocations of Mexican wolves; conducting law enforcement activities; investigating and compensating livestock depredation incidents; conduct outreach, education and research activities and managing the captive breeding program.
- The plan recognizes the MWEPA to include all of the states of Arizona and New Mexico south of Interstate 40.
- The time frame to meet species delisting criteria is 25 to 35 years.
- Evaluations of “expeditious” progress of the program will be at five and 10 years after implementation of plan.
1) A minimum of two populations meet abundance and genetic criteria as follows:
a) MWEPA average population abundance is greater than or equal to 320 Mexican wolves over eight consecutive years, and
b) Gene diversity available from the captive population has been incorporated into the MWEPA through scheduled releases of a sufficient number of wolves to result in 22 released Mexican wolves surviving to breeding age (pup 2 years, adult 1 year) in the MWEPA.
a) Northern Sierra Madre Occidental average population abundance is greater than or equal to 170 Mexican wolves over eight consecutive years, and
b) Gene diversity available from the captive population has been incorporated into the northern Sierra Madre Occidental through scheduled releases of a sufficient number of wolves that results in 37 released Mexican wolves surviving to breeding age in the northern Sierra Madre Occidental.
2) Effective State and Tribal regulations are in place in the MWEPA in those areas necessary for recovery to ensure that killing of Mexican wolves is prohibited or regulated such that viable populations of wolves can be maintained. In addition, Mexico has a proven track record protecting Mexican wolves. Based on these protections, Mexican wolves are highly unlikely to need the protection of the ESA again.
One question raised from the audience was there is no clear maximum number of wolves. John Oakleaf answered the number of 380 is the maximum for the U.S. and is in the 2017 Plan language but needs to be clarified.
The program has a big challenge to overcome which is that the genetic diversity is low mainly because of the low number and quality of the seven original founders; plus, the wild population have inbred with close relatives which has lowered its genetic diversity. The computer-generated models used in this recovery plan is banking success on increasing the number of wolves in the wild habitats of U.S. and Mexico while improving genetic diversity by continually introducing genes from the captive population. Currently there are approximately 113 wolves in the MWEPA, and 28 in Chihuahua, Mexico in the northern Sierra Madre Occidental. These areas are 280 miles apart (from center of each) which is within the wolf’s natural travel capabilities. Two wolves are already known to have traveled from Mexico into the U.S.; one that is confirmed to be the cause of loss of livestock on a southern Arizona ranch.
The cost of the 2017 Plan as stated is considerable. In answer to a question from the audience, John Oakleaf stated the annual cost of the program is currently $2 million. The FWS website states to their best estimate, the total spent from 1977 to 2015 on the Mexican wolf program is just over $37 million. The disclaimers lead one to believe there may be substantial wiggle room in that number. The recovery plan predicts to “downlist” the species in 16 to 20 years and “delist” it in 25 to 35 years. They have an estimated cost of over $262 million. In questioning the FWS team that figure does not include inflation.
This comment period is not to argue whether you’re for or against the wolf issue. The team made it clear that they read every comment, but discard those that do not pertain to comments specifically about the new recovery plan. So, when or if you prepare your comments, it must mention things like what provisions in the plan you support or not and then why. Avoid opinions and focus on substantive comments.
The comment period is open until August 29, 2017. You can submit your comments online at: www.regulations.gov Here’s what you need to know – Mexican Wolf ID: FWS-R2-ES-2017-0036 or send by mail to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R2-ES-2017-0036, US Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803
To read the 2017 Plan in full go to www.fws.gov/southwest/es/mexicanwolf/MWRP.cfm. There is also a 253-page Draft Biological Report upon which the recovery plan is based.
Here’s an idea for a business – formulate a company to contract with the FWS to take over the wrangling, flaggery and other physical management of wolves. With the amount of area to police and protect – both wolves and everything else that lives and breathes – this will be a huge job encompassing New Mexico and Arizona from I-40 south. You may even pick up some business from Mexico. But someone is going to be very busy chasing wolves around this very large area of land.