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Feds: Mexican Wolf Population “Threatened With Failure”

[large thumbnail url=”feds-mexican-wolf-population-threatened-with-failure” filename=”news” year=”2010″ month=”05″ day=”07″] [thumbnail icon url=”feds-mexican-wolf-population-threatened-with-failure” filename=”news” year=”2010″ month=”05″ day=”07″] A press release from The Center for Biological Diversity highlights the conclusions of a federal conservation assessment regarding the troubled Mexican gray wolf recovery program.

SILVER CITY, N.M.— A “conservation assessment” for the endangered Mexican gray wolf, released yesterday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, points to the urgency in reforming the Mexican wolf reintroduction project, and developing an up-to-date Mexican wolf recovery plan that includes recovery criteria, to guide establishment of additional wolf populations.

“This conservation assessment is a clarion call to action before it’s too late for the Mexican wolf, and that moment is approaching perilously fast,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity.  “Whether the Fish and Wildlife Service will act on its own science and fulfill its own promises remains to be seen.”

The conservation assessment documents the significant threats to the Mexican wolf from poaching and from the Fish and Wildlife Service’s own management decisions in removing wolves from the wild.  The document also addresses inbreeding depression, stemming initially from the Mexican wolf subspecies having been reduced (by previous Fish and Wildlife Service trapping and poisoning) to just seven breeding animals taken into captivity by the 1980s.  Loss of wolves in the wild since the reintroduction program began in 1998 has aggravated low genetic diversity, leading to inbreeding depression that is significantly lowering pup birth and survival rates.

The conservation assessment both addresses the vulnerability of the single wild Mexican wolf population in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona — last counted in January at 42 animals and two breeding pairs — and assesses the vulnerability of the approximately 300 wolves kept in 47 captive-breeding facilities in the United States and Mexico.  Careful captive breeding has maximized remaining genetic diversity from the seven founding animals, but with additional enclosure space unavailable to expand the captive population, only two to four wolf generations (i.e. four to eight years) are left before the captive population will also begin to lose significant genetic diversity (p. 60 of the assessment).

Captive and Wild Populations of Mexican Wolves Both at Risk

The assessment warns,  “The captive population, while critical to the reintroduction, is not intended to serve as a safety net for extirpation of the Blue Range [wild] population” (p. 67).  Now it is apparent that captive population itself may not be safe.

And yet the wild population itself is in deeper trouble:

“The Blue Range population, although successfully established since 1998, is not thriving. . . .  Threats hindering the biological progress of the population and success of the recovery program include management and regulatory mechanisms, such as regulations associated with the internal and external boundaries of the [wolf recovery area], and lack of an up-to-date recovery plan; illegal shooting; and inbreeding.  . . . [T]he cumulative effect of these threats results in a consistently high level of mortality, removal, and reduced fitness that, when combined with several biological parameters, threatens the population with failure.  The longer these threats persist, the greater the challenges for recovery, particularly as related to genetic fitness and long-term adaptive potential of the population” (p. 78).

Center for Biological Diversity challenges Fish and Wildife Service to End Delays in Recovery Planning

The conservation assessment acknowledges the Service’s two aborted efforts in the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s to develop a new Mexican wolf recovery plan and states that the agency is “currently in a position to return to recovery planning” (p. 110).  In response to criticisms that the conservation assessment, released in draft form in January 2009 and only finalized yesterday, is part of a longstanding pattern of the Service diagnosing problems in its Mexican wolf program but failing to act on them, the document states:
“The Service acknowledges the frustration of those who view the conservation assessment as another example of inaction, but remains certain that the development of this document will increase the speed and decrease the workload associated with the agency’s future endeavors” (p. 100).

Robinson challenged the federal agency to honor that pledge:  “We respectfully call on the Fish and Wildlife Service to appoint a panel of scientists to a new Mexican wolf recovery team within two weeks — by May 20, 2010 — and charge that team with expeditiously building on the conservation assessment’s foundation and completing a new Mexican wolf recovery plan by October 15, 2010 — in time to allow finalization this year.”

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