Federal judge shoots down Mexican wolf recovery plan

The Interagency Mexican Wolf Recovery Team counted 113 wolves in the wild in 2017. 

WHITE MOUNTAINS — Since the 1998 start of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program, disagreements about the best ways to ensure the wolves’ survival have sparked lawsuits from environmental groups.

Last November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a recovery plan for the wolves as a result of pressure from environmental groups, thirty years after the inital plan for the wolves was written, but never updated. Environmental groups also sharply criticized the 2017 recovery plan; including the Center for Biological Diversity, who responded that they intend to sue over the recovery plan, claiming it does not fulfill the mandates of the Endangered Species Act.

They want to see the population counts of the wolf bumped up from a goal of 325 (currently there are about 100 wolves in the wild) and additional areas opened to the animal, north of Interstate 40. Current guidelines call for populations to remain south of the interstate.

In April, a federal judge has swatted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for not doing enough to ensure there is a viable population of the Mexican gray wolf in Arizona and New Mexico.

In a 44-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Jennifer Zipps cited repeated instances where the agency ignored the advice of “leading wolf scientists’’ in adopting its own recovery plan. And the judge said Fish and Wildlife officials acted in an “arbitrary and capricious’’ manner in deciding what to do.

On July 12, 25 conservation groups issued a press release saying the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to release three more captive-born Mexican gray wolf packs this summer. They claim the wolf program is being mismanaged, the wolves’ the genetic diversity is declining, the number of cross-fostered pups released in recent years is too low to meet recovery goals, and that the killing of wolves to “protect livestock as well as for other purposes …is jeopardizing recovery of the Mexican wolf.”

The Independent recently printed an Arizona Game and Fish Department response to the July 12 document stating in part: “Scientists involved in Mexican wolf recovery say environmental groups distributing old and faulty data that calls for the release of captive adult wolves are not helping.”

Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity held a meeting in Pinetop-Lakeside on Sunday, August 5, and one in Alpine on August 6. A total of 17 members of the public attended the two meetings.

Robinson gave an overview of the history of the wolves and talked about the main issues the environmental groups are concerned with, which includes declining genetic diversity and not enough wolves released from captivity. He also stated the groups are planning another lawsuit over the wolf recovery program.

In a follow-up email, Robinson wrote: “FWS authorizes the killing of wolves to protect livestock as well as for other purposes to an extent that is jeopardizing recovery of the Mexican wolf. Mismanagement includes too many removals of wolves from the wild and too few releases of wolves from captivity into the wild, leading to inbreeding.”

In a phone interview with Jim deVos, Assistant Director of Wildlife Management for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, he answered several questions about the claims by Robinson and the environmental groups.

Is genetic diversity a problem among the wolves? “I don’t believe so, but it is a concern. There is not a significant decline in diversity and litter sizes are increasing. All the wolves are numbered and genetics management is carefully done,” he said.

Other statements made by deVos include: “We’ve had considerable success with cross-fostering captive born pups into wild packs … the recovery plan is ahead at this time … scientists, not all with the Game and Fish, and international experts have analyzed the data and agree that the plan is working … Center for Biological Diversity is cherry-picking old science … ” he explained.

In the July 12 press release by the environmental groups, it stated: “Release of packs was used to get reintroduction off the ground in 1998. But in 2007, the Service halted almost all releases of captive-born wolves due to pressure from the livestock industry seeking to limit expansion of the wolves’ numbers and range.”

In response, deVos said the Arizona Cattle Growers Association said the ranching community supports the cross-fostered pups program, but not the release of captive adults because they get into trouble. Ranchers and farmers have long had a problem with the wolves attacking livestock, mainly by captive-born wolves.

During his presentations, Robinson stated that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) needed to make ranchers remove dead cattle so as not to tempt and train the wolves to eat their livestock. His comments seemed to point to the carcasses of dead cattle as prompting wolf kills.

“FWS should (a) require documentation of wolves scavenging on livestock carcasses from stock that they did not kill and (b) hold blameless wolves that first scavenge on and then prey on stock, or otherwise ensure a mechanism to ensure that ranchers take responsibility for carcass removal, with field help as needed from USFWS and other cooperating agencies. This will not stop all wolf attacks on livestock, but will prevent wolves from being drawn to areas with vulnerable livestock and thereby reduce incidents of conflict. Carcasses can be carted away or buried on site where there is access for heavy equipment, doused with gas and burned when there is no fire danger, or covered with lime to render them inedible,” Robinson said in a follow-up email.

According to a story in the Arizona Republic from November, 2017, cattle made up 8 percent of the species’ diet from 1998 to 2001 in Arizona and New Mexico, while elk accounted for nearly 77 percent, researchers estimated in a 2006 study.

AZGFD will conduct a five-year assessment of the wolf recovery program will be conducted in the early 2020’s said deVos. At that time, the whole program will be studied.

“We’ve had a 16 percent growth in wolves per year,” stated deVos. “We call that a success. We have genetic concerns, but it is not a crisis and we can fix it. The population of wolves in Mexico is also growing. Why don’t we all work together for wolf recovery? We need to look at today and not old data.”

Reach the reporter at kwarnick@wmicentral.com

(17) comments


blah blah blah...what a waste

A waste of time and tens of millions of dollars.

There is NO ecological need for the wolf.
There is No environmental need for the wolf.
The is No economical need for the wolf.

Scrap it.


Arizona Game and Fish Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should quit dragging their feet on wolf recovery. More wolves, less politics.


Russ, your comments illustrate the need for better education of people who don't understand the complexity and balance of nature and it's ecosystems. Your (uninformed) argument could be extrapolated to say we don't "need" elk, either - but they were re-introduced from the northern Rockies after man wiped out the native Merriam's elk, because we belatedly recognized their part and contributions to the ecosystem. The same goes for the Mexican gray wolf.


Arizona Fish and Game Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife should quit dragging their feet on wolf recovery. More wolves, less politics.


Nailed it Russ!


Definitely a waste of money....sadly....love hearing them during elk and deer seasons and while camping....but its childish how these Biological diversity frauds act. Best option.....shut down the program, pay ranchers for kills and let the wolves figure it out. This non-sense about making ranchers and govt agencies wander the woods to find dead cows and then pack them out only highlights their ludicrous positions as environmental clowns.


AZ2WY2AZ: Should ranchers be paid for depredations by bears, lions and coyotes as well? How about lightning and mud bogs? Or is that all just part of the cost of running cattle on and near the national forests?


I'd rather have wolves than cattle on our public lands any day.


phxnative prove to us that the wolf is needed for any of the criteria I listed above.

You cant.


because the only need for the wolf is to make liberal environmentalist animal rights wackos, like yourself, feel warm and fuzzy inside.

There is no need for the wolf to manage deer, elk, etc. This has been successfully accomplished for almost a century by way of bear, lion, coyote, mother nature, and man using proven conservation practices. Never ever did we, or will we need a wolf for this reason. Might I mention that you CAN hunt bear, lion, and coyote....

There is no need for the wolf to enable grasses and other vegetation to grow. Ludicrous!

There is no need for the wolf in order to gain any economical advantage in any state. Years ago the dollars spent by the wolf program here was up to 30+ million. Surely by now a safe guess would be closer to 50+ million. Impossible to ever see a payback to the taxpayer for such a wasteful need. By the way, hunters DO contribute exceptionally to help pay for the preservation of wildlife, habitat and more.

Last year, Arizona’s 786,000 hunters and anglers spent more than $1.2 billion, supporting 18,220 Arizona jobs, generating $131,755,796 in state and local taxes and $53,799,168 to support the conservation efforts of the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

What has the wolf program done?


Scrap The Wolf


So you would stand before the Creator and say He was wrong. Arrogant much?


It is interesting (but not surprising) at how the very same liberals - who want God removed entirely, and obviously do not know Him judging from the comment above, bring God up when it comes to wolves or illegal immigrants.


The wolf - and the bald eagle, the humpback whale, the southern sea otter, the American peregrine falcon, and many others - have been saved from extinction by the E.S.A. because it was - and is - the will of the majority of the American people to protect biological diversity for its own sake and to be good stewards of the land. For the creatures' sake, for our sake, and for our descendants' sake. Perhaps we should turn your own criteria back on you:
Is there any ecological need for YOU?
Is there any environmental need for YOU?
Is there any economical need for YOU?

Should YOU be scrapped?
No - because you have as much right to be here as any other creature, human or otherwise.


Russ..you are SPOT on! Can some of you wolf historians please tell me what the “Mexican” in Mexican grey wolf denotes and if it comes up from Mexico, did it do so in tough forage times only to return to Mexico when the hunting got better? We’re there ever “native to Arizona” Mexican Gray wolves?
It certainly appears that the ESA is a justification for lawsuits to save the wolves even where the wolves have multiplied many times beyond the breeding pair number targets in many other parts of the country. Is the Mexican Grey reintroduction headed down the same road?


If the animal rights wackos have their way, yes.

Matter of fact, these extremists including environmentalists would love it if the People would just stay out of the forests. Remember "sustainable development". The wolf is part of this, although not the primary factor but intentions vary amongst the wackos. the latest excuse has just been used above in that the "majority" of people are for the wolf program(s). They have countless websites showing the beauty of these animals that are meant to melt a wary person's heart. More and more people are waking up to the truth that the wolf is one of many items in use by the liberal left and as such is set to do either two things - 1. waste countless millions of dollars. 2. waste countless of millions of dollars and create a huge mess.

I vote for 2.

The liberal animal rights wackos will stop at nothing. Again there is NO need for the wolf here other than to appease the extremists. That's it.

Compare to the huge mees made in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. As wolf populations have increased, big-game numbers spiraled downward. There is no better example than the elk herd north of the Yellowstone border. Land that once had 19,000 elk in 1995 now holds less than 4,000.

Despite populations six times above the minimum recovery goal of 300 wolves and despite their devastating impact on wildlife and hunting, some anti-hunting organizations still aren’t satisfied. An attorney representing Earthjustice recently requested the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) allow the region’s wolf population to grow as high as 5,000 animals. A single wolf can kill up to 35 elk per year.

ask yourself why the wacko's want this.

There is no need for the wolf here, Scrap It!


Russ, your "facts" are either baseless, erroneous or both (and lacking credible citations) - a simple Google search can disprove them. Your arguments based on those "facts" are hysterical and offensive. There's an old rule that states, "Never argue with stupid people - they'll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience." So sayonara, Russ.


Airwuf, Mexico used to extend north into Utah and California. Arizona used to be part of Mexico. Mexican wolves ranged as far west as California and as far north as Nebraska. So yes, Mexican gray wolves are native to Arizona.


Phx, its okay. you're a liberal. Liberals cling to their lies even when presented with the truth.


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