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New genes, new populations, new recovery plan crucial to Mexican gray wolf survival

TUCSON (September 4, 2013) – Vast majorities in both Arizona and New Mexico strongly support continued efforts to restore Mexican gray wolves to the American southwest, according to a new poll released by Defenders of Wildlife. The poll comes as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is considering new proposals that would hamper Mexican gray wolf recovery and scheduling regional hearings to obtain public input on the proposal.

The poll, conducted last month for Defenders by Tulchin Research, shows that the majority of New Mexicans and Arizonans want to see wolves not just survive, but thrive, and want the FWS to take additional steps to ensure their continued recovery.

  • 87% of voters in both states agree that wolves are a “vital part of America’s wilderness and natural heritage.”
  • 8 in 10 voters agree that the FWS should make every effort to prevent extinction.
  • 82% of Arizona voters and 74% of New Mexico voters agree there should be a science-based recovery plan.
  • Over two-thirds of voters in both states agree with scientists who say there are too few Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico and that we need to reintroduce two new populations of wolves in suitable habitat in the states.

“Americans in the southwest see wolves as a vital part of the local landscape and they want efforts to restore them to continue,” said Eva Sargent, Southwest director for Defenders of Wildlife. “The Fish and Wildlife Service can make this happen if they let science rule the day and refuse to kowtow to the small minority in the region who oppose wolf recovery under any circumstances.”

The FWS current proposal would jeopardize wolf recovery by establishing artificial boundaries around wolf habitat, leaving excellent habitat outside these boundaries. Currently, wolves must remain within invisible boundaries in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. If they establish territories outside this area, they are trapped and moved back, which scientists say is a hindrance to recovery. The new proposal would expand these boundaries, but would still capture and return any wolf that so much as strays outside.

“The Service continues to want to keep the wolves boxed in between arbitrary lines on a map,” said Sargent.“They are proposing a bigger box, but it’s still a box. If they are going to survive, we need to let wolves be wolves and allow them to live in suitable habitat throughout the region.”
Scientists also say that to recover, there need to be more releases of new wolves to strengthen the gene pool as well as new populations established in different areas of the Southwest, with dispersal allowed between those populations.

“By the late 1970s, the Mexican gray wolf was nearly eradicated and because today’s 75 wild individuals are all descended from the only seven wolves saved at that time, their genetic health has been severely compromised,” said Phil Hedrick, a geneticist and former Mexican gray wolf recovery team expert. “The Service knows this, and we have made it clear that if a recovery plan is not completed and implemented immediately, one which allows for dispersal, these animals cannot recover.”

The Service has announced that it will hold a public meeting to take comments that will help to determine the fate of these iconic, imperiled animals. The hearing will be held on Friday, October 4, 2013 in Albuquerque, NM. Defenders of Wildlife will host an open house for wolf advocates in advance of the meeting and members will be on hand to help attendees submit written and oral comments in hopes that we can make the Service hear the desperate howl of the Mexican gray wolf.

“If there’s one thing the Mexican gray wolves have on their side, it’s good objective scientists who are figuring out how to save them,” says Sargent. “What they don’t have is time. The Service must hear what science tells us the wolves need – access to suitable habitat in the Grand Canyon ecoregion and Northern New Mexico/Southern Colorado, new genes, and help establishing additional populations. When we give wolves our best effort, they return the favor by making landscapes healthier for everyone.”