Katherine Davis-Young, Public News Service (AZ)
PHOENIX – Environmental groups in the Southwest are celebrating a district court ruling this week on management of endangered Mexican gray wolves.
A federal judge found that guidelines set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2015 “failed to further the conservation of the Mexican wolf.” Tim Preso, an attorney with the law firm Earthjustice who represented the groups, said the 2015 guidelines put a too-low cap on population numbers for the wolves and too severely restricted their habitat.
“So, it’s a very important rule in terms of setting the sideboards for the population’s recovery from its endangered status,” he said.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife argued that the 2015 federal management guidelines disregarded scientists’ advice on how to keep the wolves from extinction. Slightly more than 100 Mexican gray wolves remain in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has called this the “rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America.” It is native to the Southwest, and Preso said the wolves play an important role in the health of the region’s ecosystems. But in order to survive, he said, the species needs a large enough population to prevent inbreeding and increase genetic diversity.
“We’re hopeful that there’ll be an opportunity here to salvage this management program before it’s too late for the Mexican wolf,” he said.
As part of the ruling, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the groups that filed the lawsuit have 30 days to propose a deadline for revisions to the Mexican gray wolf management plan.