The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USWFS) released its Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan on Wednesday, with the goal to average 320 wolves in New Mexico and Arizona over an eight-year period. Over the last three years of the period, the population would have to exceed that average to ensure that it doesn't backslide. Once the goal is met, the wolf will be considered to be de-classified as an endangered species.
Currently, there are 113 Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. Another 30 to 35 wolves are accounted for in Mexico. Conservationists are using, among other methods, artificial insemination to boost the population and to genetically diversify it, a key to developing healthier and more viable pups.
The recovery plan projects that those numbers would grow to 145 in the U.S. and 100 in Mexico over the next five years.
"This plan really provides us a roadmap for where we need to go to get this species recovered and delisted and get its management turned back over to the states and tribes," Sherry Barrett, the Mexican wolf recovery coordinator, told The Associated Press.
The USWFS weighed comments about the wolf species' recovery from lawmakers and state officials, environmentalists, scientists and business owners to create the plan. Barrett told the AP that the final plan's scientific models were reviewed by wildlife officials and "other peers" in an effort to protect the wolves' genetic diversity.
The plan calls for targeted releases for captive-bred wolves. Improvements in the wolves' survival rates will be a factor in just how many releases are needed. While the USWFS has final say in the matter regarding the releases, wildlife officials in New Mexico and Arizona will have influence regarding the timing and location that these captive-bred wolves are released into the wild.
Not nearly enough to help
The Center for Biological Diversity called the plan "deeply flawed" and criticized it for doing too little to protect the wolves.
"This isn't a recovery plan, it's a blueprint for disaster for Mexican gray wolves," said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate at the Center. "By limiting their habitat and stripping protections too soon, this plan ignores the science and ensures Mexican wolves never reach sufficient numbers to be secure."
The Center references a 2011 plan presented to the USFWS that called for "three interconnected populations with a total of 750 animals" as a more realistic number for survival than the 320 in the released plan.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service published over 250 pages of supporting 'scientific' justification, used a sophisticated model to predict extinction probabilities, then tossed the science aside and asked the states how many wolves they would tolerate with no scientific justification whatsoever," David Parsons, former Mexican wolf recovery coordinator for the USFWS said in the Center's statement.
"Using the states' arbitrary upper limit as a population cap in the population viability model and forcing additional recovery needs to Mexico, the plan will guarantee that from now to eternity no more than a running average of 325 Mexican wolves will ever be allowed to exist in the entire U.S. Southwest. This plan is a disgraceful sham."