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Endangered U.S. Wolf Denied New Habitat, as Critics Charge that Politics Trumped Science

posted Oct 23, 2017, 3:32 PM by chloe owens

9/27/17, by Cally Carswell, Science Magazine

Endangered U.S. wolf denied new habitat, as critics charge that politics trumped science

On 26 January 1998, federal wildlife officials drove three Mexican wolves to a remote corner of southeastern Arizona, where they soon became the first wild wolves to roam the U.S. Southwest in nearly 30 years. Mike Phillips, a biologist who had helped reintroduce wolves to the southeastern United States and Yellowstone National Park, said that day that reestablishing the Mexican wolf was going to be "the biggest wolf conservation challenge" yet. The captive-bred wolves would have to survive in a landscape grazed heavily by livestock, increasing the potential for deadly conflicts with ranchers… Nineteen years after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released those animals, the agency has announced its draft plan for reestablishing a viable population. The recovery plan, released this June, will guide the agency's actions as it tries to boost the Mexican wolf population enough to justify removing it from Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection. Southwestern states believe the plan appropriately balances the concerns of ranchers and local communities with conservation goals. But Phillips and some other wildlife scientists say it will leave the Mexican wolf in peril, despite decades of effort to save it. They charge that FWS designed the plan primarily to appease the states, putting politics before science-based conservation. At the heart of the current controversy is a debate over where federal biologists should release more wolves, outside their current range in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, to create a larger and more resilient population… The team eventually recommended establishing two additional populations, one around the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona, and another in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. Recovery would be achieved, they suggested, when the wolves in the three areas totaled 750, with at least 200 animals in each population and movement between them… A copy of the draft obtained by Science said the Mexican wolf was "not recoverable" unless its range included the northern sites. But the agency never finished the draft or released it to the public… The draft recovery plan released this summer departs dramatically from the science team's earlier recommendations. It concludes that expanding the current Arizona-New Mexico population to just over 300 wolves and establishing a population of 170 wolves in Mexico will be enough to ensure recovery… The draft recovery plan released this summer departs dramatically from the science team's earlier recommendations. It concludes that expanding the current Arizona-New Mexico population to just over 300 wolves and establishing a population of 170 wolves in Mexico will be enough to ensure recovery.

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/09/endangered-us-wolf-denied-new-habitat-critics-charge-politics-trumped-science

 

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