With winter upon us and the days getting noticeably shorter, so too is the time left to speak out on behalf of Mexican gray wolves. Among the country’s most imperiled species, there are only about 75 lobos left in the wild. The ultimate fate of these iconic animals could be decided in the next year and, troublingly, it appears that the wolves’ best interests may not be the only factors at play.
Scientists agree that there are three things vital to successful wolf recovery – a comprehensive, science-based recovery plan; the release of more wolves into the wild; and at least two new core populations in the most suitable habitat areas in the Grand Canyon region and southern Utah/southern Colorado. But these recommendations are seemingly falling on deaf ears as the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) makes decisions about the lobos’ future management that ignore these basic findings. Worse still, the FWS may be engaging in some backroom dealing with states.
A letter from the director of the Arizona Game and Fish Department to FWS Director Dan Ashe dated August 1st of this year suggests that in a discussion on July 23rd, state and federal officials came to certain agreements regarding the proposed rule changes for Mexican gray wolf management. Not only do the agreements alluded to in the letter imply that the FWS decisions on the wolf were made before due public process, but, what’s worse, they ensure that the lobos are not allowed to disperse outside of an arbitrarily drawn geographic region – which precludes them from reaching the suitable habitat necessary for recovery.
Perhaps if the FWS had taken a hard look at just how significant lobos are to the ecological health of the Southwest before having this private “discussion,” the conversation would have gone a little differently. The FWS proposal not only blatantly ignores best science, but also the opinions of the public. A recent poll conducted by Tulchin Research reveals overwhelming support for Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest. 87% of voters polled in both Arizona and New Mexico agree that wolves are a “vital part of America’s wilderness and natural heritage;” 8 in 10 of those polled agree that the FWS should make every effort to prevent extinction; 82% of Arizona respondents and 74% of New Mexico respondents agree there should be a science-based recovery plan; and over two-thirds of voters polled in both states agree with scientists who say there are too few wolves in Arizona and New Mexico and that we need to reintroduce two new populations of wolves in suitable habitat in the states.
If these numbers don’t make it clear to the FWS that Americans want to save the lobo, I don’t know what could.
Our nation is one that prides itself on both preserving the symbols of our character and on scientific innovation, so why is it so easy for the government to turn a blind eye to basic, sound science that tells us how to save one of America’s most iconic animals just to play politics instead?
By Eva Sargent, Defenders of Wildlife Director of Southwest Programs. Essays in the Range blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.