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Thursday, April 21, 2022

Albuquerque, NM—Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released a revised Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Plan that once again fails to adequately address the most immediate threat facing the critical recovery needs of the most imperiled wolf subspecies in the world: illegal killings.

The revised plan comes in response to a court order from October 2021, when a federal district court judge ruled that the USFWS failed to include specific actions addressing human-caused mortality of Mexican gray wolves.

Currently, human-caused mortality is the leading cause of death for the Mexican gray wolf population and accounts for more than 70% of mortalities. Illegal poaching remains the biggest hindrance to species’ recovery. Recent research indicates that human-caused mortality, especially through poaching during times of reduced protection, has been consistently mismeasured and significantly underestimated.

The revised plan mentions increasing law enforcement presence to address poaching but fails to detail how the USFWS plans to increase prosecution of poaching incidents. Prosecution of poachers has been hindered by the Justice Department’s McKittrick policy which requires the government to prove the defendant knew the biological identity of the animal they were killing. Thus the “I thought it was a coyote” defense remains an effective strategy for avoiding prosecution as coyote hunting remains legal year-round throughout the Mexican gray wolf range. The revised plan also still allows for the lethal control of wolves in response to conflict, which further incentivizes and increases poaching.

“Proposed revisions are a tepid response to the serious impact of human-caused mortality, especially cryptic poaching, which equals or exceeds known poaching.” said Dave Parsons, former Mexican wolf recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service, science advisor for Project Coyote and carnivore conservation biologist for The Rewilding Institute. “More drastic measures are needed to ensure the recovery and long-term survival of the critically endangered Lobos. These include more aggressive prosecution of wolf killers; the implementation of policies to restrict the killing of coyotes in the wolf recovery area, especially during hunting seasons for other species; and the inclusion of estimates of cryptic poaching in models for estimating human-caused mortality.”

Recovery plans are required by the Endangered Species Act to serve as road maps to species recovery. They outline specific actions that USFWS will follow to ensure a species recovers to restored and secured self-sustaining wild populations.

The Mexican gray wolf recovery plan was originally issued in 1982 and the first revision was adopted in 2017. The 2017 revision came in response to the settlement of a lawsuit filed by several wildlife organizations requiring USFWS to revise the 1982 recovery plan. The revision released today of the 2017 plan, forced by a court order resulting from yet another lawsuit, still remains insufficient to ensure full recovery of these critically imperiled wolves.

“Ensuring that wolves and people can coexist is an essential part of long-term success for Mexican gray wolf recovery,” said Renee Seacor, carnivore conservation advocate for Project Coyote and the Rewilding Institute. “USFWS should reinforce the strictest protections for Mexican gray wolves. Today's plan does little to deter poachers who know that prosecution is little to none in these cases. In order to address poaching head-on, we need active prosecution of all poaching incidents.”

A 30-day comment period for the Recovery Plan commences today and will close on May 16, 2022.