Mexican wolf does not get separate ESA listing, for now
Written byLAURA PETERSEN, Greenwire
The Fish and Wildlife Service will not reclassify the endangered Mexican gray wolf as a separate subspecies under the Endangered Species Act, disappointing environmental groups that say it's a political move and a missed opportunity to improve recovery efforts for the struggling wolf.
The Mexican wolf is recognized in the scientific literature as a genetically and geographically distinct subspecies of gray wolf. However, under the ESA, it is lumped in as a subset of the larger population that roams the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes.
The Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and the Rewilding Institute petitioned to list the Mexican wolf as a separate subspecies in 2009, hoping the process would spur FWS to update its recovery plan, designate critical habitat and expand reintroduction efforts (Land Letter, Aug. 5, 2010).
"We are baffled by the Service's decision," said Mark Salvo, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians, in a statement. "The Endangered Species Act specifically allows for protection for separate subspecies of animals, and separate listing would benefit the failing, flailing Mexican wolf recovery program."
FWS says in its finding that the wolves have received protection since they went on the endangered species list in 1976 and reclassification is unnecessary because it would not result in new protection.
"Were the Service to separately list each constituent subspecies or potential [distinct population segment] comprising an already listed entity, the endangered and threatened list would almost certainly be expanded several fold, and the limited resources of the Service would be consumed for years by the task, only to give again the protection of the Act to individual plants and animals that already had it," the finding states.
However, the agency goes on to say it is reviewing the status of the entire population of gray wolves in the lower 48 states. If it were to delist the gray wolf completely, FWS acknowledges it could not remove protection for the Mexican wolf and would first have to designate it as a separate subspecies.
Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said it appears the agency is delaying its decisions on the lower 48 population and Mexican wolf until after the November election.
"They didn't want to do anything controversial before the election," he said.
Currently, fewer than 60 Mexican wolves in the Southwest are managed as an "experimental, nonessential population," which allows FWS to kill or remove wolves that repeatedly prey on livestock or wander outside the federally designated recovery zone. The program has struggled to establish a self-sustaining population and gain local support.
Experimental status has been an impediment to wolf recovery, Salvo said. While it is unlikely that redesignation as a separate subspecies would have changed that status immediately, it could have given environmentalists the ammunition they needed to challenge it in the future, he said.
The environmentalists said the most important element to save the wolf is an updated recovery plan, which is expected out by the end of this year or early 2013, according to FWS's Southwestern regional office in Albuquerque, N.M.