Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced its proposed changes to the management regulations for Mexican gray wolves in the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area (MWEPA) in Arizona and New Mexico. The proposed changes come after a federal court ordered FWS to revise its wolf-management rule because it was not based on current science and did not adequately protect the genetic diversity of the rare subspecies of gray wolf native to Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service proposal once again fails this great, American mammal," said Defenders of Wildlife Southwest Program Director Bryan Bird. "Not only does it set the bar too low, but it appears to ignore the clear directions of a federal judge. It's time to remove the political obstacles preventing recovery of the Mexican Gray Wolf."

The newly proposed management rule lifts the cap on the total number of wolves in the wild and temporarily tightens the conditions under which wolves can be removed from the wild. However, the rule fails to ensure ecological recovery, prescribing measures that, at best, provide for the short-term survival rather than long-term recovery of Mexican gray wolves. 

The rule adheres to an outdated estimate of historical range and inappropriately restricts wolves to a relatively small area, preventing them from reoccupying some of the last, best habitats in the U.S. Scientists have determined that these areas are not only suitable and appropriate for Mexican gray wolves but are essential for their recovery and long-term survival.

"The states are hanging on to an old form of taxonomy based on morphology," said Craig Miller, Defenders of Wildlife Arizona Senior Representative, "Modern DNA-based analysis of wolf pelts and skulls from across the West has shown that Mexican gray wolves had a much broader distribution than previously thought, with their genetic markers present in specimens wandering into Colorado and even western Nebraska." 

The reason why ancestry.com asks for DNA samples, not skull measurements, is because DNA provides a much better understanding of how individuals are related and a more accurate depiction of their historical distribution.

The rule also indefensibly retains the "nonessential" determination for the Mexican gray wolf, which is contrary to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Nonessential status allows federal land management agencies to disregard impacts on wolves because they do not have to consult with FWS or require livestock producers to adopt proven conflict-avoidance tools.

The FWS must adequately address the potential changes in wolf habitat, prey species, water and vegetation distribution, and wolf movements due to the impacts of climate change in the revised Mexican Wolf 10(j) Management Rule in addition to including an effective migration rate to protect against genetic deterioration. The agency must also limit poaching, one of the leading causes of Mexican gray wolf deaths. This will require community outreach activities, coexistence efforts and increased law enforcement.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

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