Arizona Sues USA to Protect Gray Wolves

Uncle Sam has no viable recovery plan for the Mexican gray wolf, despite 30 years of efforts and a cost of $7 million to Arizona, the state claims in court.


Arizona sued Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday, citing violations of the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.

Arizona claims that federal listing of the wolf as endangered and subsequent recovery plans have interfered with Arizona's "sovereign authority to manage and conserve the Mexican wolf pursuant to Arizona law, and this will continue until the Mexican wolf is recovered and the FWS delists the species."

The Mexican wolf has been listed as an endangered subspecies of the gray wolf since 1976. In January federal wildlife officials listed the subspecies too as endangered.

TAKE ACTION: Tell USFWS to take emergency action to rescue the Mexican gray wolf

Arizona claims the recovery plan for the subspecies, which dates back to the 1980s, "is not a complete plan for Mexican wolf recovery and will require changes."

It says that a viable, legal recovery plan would necessarily lead to delisting of the subspecies, but that the current plan does nothing of the kind.

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Mexican gray wolf range map. Mexican wolves once ranged from central Mexico to southwestern Texas, southern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona. Today, the Mexican wolf has been reintroduced to the Apache National Forest in southeastern Arizona and may move into the adjacent Gila National Forest in western New Mexico as the population expands. (text and image: Defenders of Wildlife)

"The FWS has admitted that the objective of the original recovery plan to reestablish a single experimental population of Mexican wolves is inadequate for the recovery of the Mexican wolf," the lawsuit states.

"Since 1982, the FWS has convened three recovery teams to develop a new recovery plan for the Mexican wolf. Despite this effort, the FWS has not completed a new recovery plan that meets the legal requirements of ESA." (Paragraph 31)

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Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Endangered Wolf Center, the Wolf Conservation Center and others sued federal officials to protect the subspecies in November 2014.

Under the 1980s recovery program to which Arizona objects, 11 captive-raised wolves were released in Arizona's White Mountains in 1998, in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. The program was supposed to build a self-sustaining population of at least 100 wild wolves.

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The Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project’s interagency field team releases a radio collared 4-year-old male Mexican wolf, designated M1133, in January 2013. He was born in captivity in 2008 and was released to develop a more genetically robust wild Mexican wolf population. (image: Arizona Game and Fish Department)

"Unfortunately, the reintroduced population has not flourished," the environmental groups' 2014 lawsuit states. "This is in significant part because FWS has imposed numerous restrictions on the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program that continue to impede efforts to bring this rare species back from the brink of extinction. Under FWS's management, introduction of captive Mexican gray wolves into the wild remains infrequent, allowing genetic problems for the species to mount even as more genetically diverse wolves languish in captive breeding facilities."

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The experiment is in trouble in part because the agency has "liberally authorized the killing and removal of Mexican gray wolves that come into conflict with domestic livestock, regardless of those wolves' genetic significance to the population," the groups claimed.

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Though they once numbered in the thousands, Mexican gray wolves were wiped out in the U.S. by the mid-1970s, with just a handful existing in zoos. In 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, led by Jamie Rappaport Clark (now president of Defenders of Wildlife), released 11 Mexican gray wolves back into the wild in Arizona. Although their numbers have grown slowly, and they remain the most endangered subspecies of wolf in the world. Today there are approximately 109 of these wolves in the wild. (text: Defenders of Wildlife; image: Jim Clark/USFWS/Flickr CC)

Arizona's Game and Fish Department said Monday that since the mid-1980s it has "spent more than $7 million on wolf recovery in the state and has been the predominant on-the-ground presence working to manage Mexican wolves."

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"The [FWS] is currently in litigation with special interest groups and settlement discussions could possibly occur without our knowledge or involvement, as has occurred in previous Mexican wolf lawsuits," Arizona Game and Fish Commission Chairman Robert Mansell said in a statement. "As the state's wildlife authority, we will not sit on the sidelines when it comes to decisions affecting Arizona's wildlife."

Arizona Game and Fish Department Director Larry Voyles said his department has "reached a point where without a current recovery plan to provide a framework by which to operate and objective science-based goals to target, the Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project we started in 1998 will be faced with unwarranted litigation with little regard for how biologically successful our efforts become."

The state seeks a declaration that Uncle Sam violated the ESA by failing to develop a proper recovery plan for the Mexican wolf, and a court order directing federal officials to develop a new one.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Visit Courthouse News for complaint.

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