June 15, 2020

Arizona and New Mexico: CSF Supports “Non-Essential Experimental” Designation for the Mexican Wolf

Contact: Ellary TuckerWilliams, Inter-Mountain Western States Coordinator

On June 12, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted a comment letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in support of maintaining the “non-essential experimental population” designation of the Mexican wolf, under Section 10 (j) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Once common throughout the southeastern U.S., the Mexican wolf was all but eliminated from the wild in the 1970s. USFWS recovery efforts of the Mexican wolf began in 1977 and in 1998, captive bred Mexican wolves were released into the wild for the first time in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area within the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area, spanning into both Arizona and New Mexico.

When the original reintroduction of the Mexican wolf occurred, the species was given a “non-essential experimental population” designation under Section 10 (j) of the ESA due to the presence of a modest yet successful captive breeding population, making it extremely unlikely that the complete loss of the reintroduced Mexican wolf population would result in the extinction of the species entirely. Under the “non-essential experimental” designation, both the take prohibitions and consultation requirements of the ESA are relaxed, easing regulatory burden and allowing for greater management flexibility.

In both Arizona and New Mexico, much of the Mexican wolf recovery effort had been under the leadership of the Arizona Fish and Game Department (AZFGD) and New Mexico Department of Fish and Game (NMDFG).  Under their collective purview, the wild Mexican wolf population has increased from the original 11 individuals to 163, due to an extremely successful cross-fostering program. The ability to cross-foster captive born pups with wild Mexican wolf dens is absolutely essential to increasing genetic variability and overall long-term survival of the species.  The current captive breeding program has over 400 young, healthy adults of prime reproductive age, which is significantly higher than when the original “non-essential experimental” designation was made.

Further support for the “non-essential experimental” designation comes from the ability of agency personnel to remove repeat depredation-problem wolves through culling or placing them back into the captive breeding program. Without this ability, social tolerance of the Mexican wolf reintroduction program would likely diminish, and possibly lead to increased hostility towards current wild populations. This would not only threaten the long-term survival of the species in the wild, but it would also increase the economic burden of recovery efforts that taxpayers carry. Both AZGFD and NMDGF cite the ability to remove problem wolves under the “non-essential experimental” designation as critical to long-term success of the species.

As with any threatened or endangered species, the ultimate goal is for the species to recover, ensuring that they are able to survive without human involvement in the wild. AZGFD and NMDGF have continued to show their ability to lead the recovery effort of the Mexican wolf under the “non-essential experimental” population designation and associated management flexibility. Moving forward, if the Mexican wolf population were to be re-designated as an “essential experimental population” under ESA, management would become increasingly rigid and cumbersome, ultimately reducing the states’ ability to continue their current positive recovery efforts.

CSF supports the continued state-led effort in the recovery of the Mexican wolf and looks forward to when the species is no longer listed under ESA. 

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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