On Tuesday, the Arizona Game and Fish Department served a Notice of Intent with the secretary of the Department of Interior and director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The action was taken in an effort to support development of an updated recovery plan for Mexican wolves that utilizes the best available science as legally required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Game and Fish has requested an updated recovery plan from the Service on multiple occasions over the past several years because the current recovery plan for Mexican wolves developed in 1982 is so outdated that it no longer provides an adequate framework to guide the recovery effort. That plan also fails to identify the recovery criteria required by the ESA including downlisting and delisting criteria.
“This Notice of Intent is an effort to ensure that the Fish and Wildlife Service adheres to its legal obligation to develop a thorough science-based plan that will lead to a successful recovery outcome that recognizes Mexico as pivotal to achieving recovery of the Mexican wolf given that 90 percent of its historical range is there,” said Arizona Game and Fish Department Director Larry Voyles.
On Wednesday Congressman Paul Gosar, released a statement praising the move. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has been using the same flawed recovery plan for the Mexican Wolf since the early 1980’s. This plan is not based on the best available science and is significantly out of date. Officials in Arizona have been calling for an updated plan for years which includes matrices that if met, will allow for delisting. The agency has failed to comply with an updated plan despite acknowledging that the current plan is not in compliance. The State had no choice but to issue a notice with intent to sue.”
“Without an updated plan that includes recovery criteria, the Mexican Wolf will remain on the Endangered Species list in perpetuity. To make matters worse, a recent proposal to increase the geographic boundaries for the Mexican Wolf will result in huge swaths of lands becoming blocked off for other uses and in most cases prevent things like energy extraction, mining, timber harvesting and various other forms of economic development. Additionally, the proposed designations would negatively impact ranchers, businesses and residents throughout Arizona by posing increased threats to livestock and forcing our citizens to miss out on substantial tax revenues,” continued Gosar.
Bi-national recovery plans for endangered species have been successfully established with Mexico for other species including Sonoran pronghorn, Kemp’s ridley sea turtles and, most recently, thick-billed parrots. The department asserts that to succeed, Mexican wolf recovery must include an integrated, bi-national approach that incorporates the recovery work already underway in Mexico.
The Service is currently in litigation with several parties that are pushing for reestablishment of Mexican wolves in areas that are not part of the subspecies’ historical range and requesting a resolution in an unreasonable timeframe. These groups are basing their litigation on a draft report developed by a Mexican Wolf Recovery Science and Planning Subgroup. The department completed extensive analysis of the subgroup’s recommendations and found the science used as a basis for the recommendations to be significantly flawed. This misguided approach could jeopardize genetic integrity of the subspecies if the Mexican wolf is permitted to reestablish in close proximity to Northern gray wolves.
Secretary Sally Jewell of the Department of Interior has 60 days to respond to the Notice of Intent. If the secretary fails to respond, the department will pursue civil action. A Notice of Intent is a required precursor to pursuing civil action.
Arizona Game and Fish’s involvement in Mexican wolf conservation began in the mid-1980s. Since that time, the department has spent more than $7 million on wolf recovery in the state and has been the predominant on-the-ground presence working to manage Mexican wolves.
“It defies commonsense that we are tying up precious resources in America to protect a wolf that is not native to the country and there is not a realistic plan for recovery of an animal that was first listed in 1976,” concluded Gosar.