ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) — U.S. wildlife managers want to see at least 320 Mexican gray wolves roaming the southwest over the next few years as they try to recover an endangered species that for decades , has been at the center of political conflicts and litigation.
While a population cap would be eliminated under a proposed management rule, conservationists say the US Fish and Wildlife Service is not going far enough to ensure the endangered species’ recovery. They are pushing for the release of more captive wolves – especially bonded pairs with puppies.
Federal officials released their draft decision on the wolf management plan and related environmental review on Friday. Among other things, the plan outlines when and how wolves can be removed from the wild or released from captivity.
The changes were prompted by a lawsuit filed by environmental groups. A federal judge had ordered that a revised plan be in place by July 1.
Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said increased wolf numbers and a wider geographic distribution across New Mexico and Arizona should signal greater safety for the population in the near term. Still, he said the loss of genetic diversity will be a problem for predators in the future.
“The government pretends to conserve genetic diversity because of its loss in court, but refuses to release family packs with high survival rates,” he said, noting that independent scientists have also lobbied for the integration of underrepresented genes from captivity in the wild.
Robinson said failure to address genetic issues is against the spirit of the Endangered Species Act and may violate the letter of the law.
New Mexico ranchers have their own concerns, noting that removing the population cap will lead to more wolves on the landscape and ultimately more confrontation with livestock.
“Every day, ranching families face unpredictable weather, fluctuating markets and increasing regulations. Now the feds are shifting the “targets” of the stimulus package again,” said Craig Ogden, president of the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau. “Our state’s ranchers are being sacrificed to achieve an ever-changing goal with no real finish line in sight.”
It’s unclear whether the Fish and Wildlife Service’s latest effort will result in another legal challenge by ranchers or conservationists.
Agency officials did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the groups’ concerns.
The rarest gray wolf subspecies in North America, the Mexican wolf has seen its population increase over the past six years. A survey earlier this year showed at least 196 Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and Arizona.
The management rule would place restrictions on permits issued to ranchers or state wildlife agencies that allow the killing of wolves if they prey on cattle, elk or deer. In its draft decision, the Fish and Wildlife Service said that by doing so, demographic and genetic threats to Mexican wolves would be significantly reduced in a decade or less.
Federal officials hope to reach their overall population goal as early as 2028 and plan to increase the survival rate of captive-bred wolves that are released into the wild in coming years.
Officials also said the revised plan puts a genetic goal in the regulations for the first time, and that meeting that goal along with the population goal would result in a 90% chance that the Mexican wolf population will persist over the course of the year. of the next century.
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