The Politics of Mexican Wolf Recovery Plans. In Chapter 5 of my Wildlife Politics book titled “Charismatic Animals, Carnivores, and the Politics of Wildlife,” I discuss in detail the difficulties that have beset attempts to recover the Mexican wolf in the Southwest U.S. In contrast to the recovery of wolves in the Yellowstone ecoregion, the recovery has been slow and suffered many setbacks with at least one wolf expert I cite in my book suggesting that the effort was futile. In their 1982 recovery plan, the USFWS set 100 as the goal for the number of wolves but they admitted that this was a “starting point”—not a scientifically determined number. On June 29, 2017, the USFWS released an updated recovery plan. The plan sets a total goal of 320 Mexican wolves in the U.S. (and an additional 170 wolves in Mexico). The plan focused its goal around wolves near Mexico and below the Interstate 40 as desired by state officials (Arizona and New Mexico)—the latter point being due to their threat to livestock and wildlife game populations. Conservationists criticized the wolf population goals as being too low—they point out that a draft plan in 2012 (never approved) had 750 as the total for wolves. They also argue that wolves need to be recovered North of I-40 so that they can connect with northern population of wolves to support their genetic diversity and because much of the best Arizona habitat for them is in these areas. The revised plan won the support of the state wildlife departments—an Arizona official termed it “a very fair document.” This support is undoubtedly the critical element in the USFWS key decisions about the numeric goals and the decision to keep them south of I-40. The Arizona and New Mexico wildlife departments have been generally resistive to the Mexican wolf recovery efforts and achieving their support outweighs the opposition of conservation groups and science that support greater numbers and more connectivity. In my book, I discuss how Mexican wolves generally achieve good general public support in surveys. For example, a 2013 survey conducted by Tulchin Research found strong support in both states—72% and 69% respectively for Arizona and New Mexican support establishment of wolves in the northern areas of their state including majorities of Republicans in both states! This type of support is not unusual in western states—as I point out in my book, majority support for recovery of wolves is strong in many supposedly conservative states such as Montana and Idaho. However, in these states, leadership of the wildlife policymaking groups (their state departments overseeing wildlife and policymaking bodies such as commissions) have consistently opposed recovery efforts or have tried to minimize any efforts in these areas. This anomaly of popular support of carnivores coupled with anti-carnivore policy is due to the strength and intensity of opponents such as ranchers and hunters—they have an intense antipathy for carnivores that take their livestock or their game. Although they are distinctly a numerical minority, the intensity of their feelings and the traditional dominance of institutions governing wildlife by these groups has been sufficient to result in anti-carnivore policies. Thus the position of the USFWS in their latest Mexican wolf plan makes sense politically to the agency. Even if the presidential administration were favorable to wildlife (e.g., if Hillary Clinton had been elected), the USFWS would proceed with extreme caution as it did during the years of the Obama and Clinton Administrations in their policies concerning carnivores and the Endangered Species Act generally. With the election of Donald Trump, the new leadership of the Department of Interior, and with Congress actively moving to revise the ESA with likely more control by states, the USFWS undoubtedly feels as though this new plan is the best possible conservation result.
The USFWS latest recovery plan is available at http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-science/2017/06/29/mexican-gray-wolves-federal-recovery-plan/439856001/
The Tulchin survey concerning Mexican wolves is available at: https://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/mexicanwolf/pdf/20170630_FR_NOTICE_FWS-R2-ES-2017-0036.pdf
A critique of the plan by conservationists is available at: http://mexicanwolves.org/index.php/news/1770/51/Press-Release-New-Lobo-Recovery-Plan-Puts-Politics-Before-Science-Risks-Recovery-of-Highly-Endangered-Mexican-Gray-Wolves
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