Groups call for end to Mexican wolf removal policy

May 1, 2008 5:20:35 AM PDT

WildEarth Guardians and The Rewilding Institute are asking the U.S. District Court to stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's removal policy, known as "Standard Operating Procedure 13."

Under the policy, Fish and Wildlife removed 45 wolves from the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area during the past three years. That's almost twice the number that the agency removed in the prior seven years.

The removal sometimes involves killing the wolves and other times involves bringing them back to captivity, authorities said.

"We don't think the removal of any of the wolves in the wild is appropriate," said Rob Edward, director of carnivore restoration at Santa Fe-based WildEarth Guardians. "The top priority should be the recovery of the species."

Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Elizabeth Slown said she hasn't received a copy of the lawsuit yet, but added that cattle ranchers have a right to protect their livestock from wolves.

Mexican gray wolves disappeared from the American Southwest during the past century as federal eradication efforts swept them from the wild. In 1998, Fish and Wildlife reintroduced 11 of the wolves into the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area.

The area includes more than 5 million acres that straddle the Arizona and New Mexico borders. It includes private land, towns, two national forests and an Arizona reservation.

When the recovery program started, agency officials figured the wolves would thrive and expected 102 wolves and 18 breeding pairs by 2006. However, 52 wolves remained in the recovery area as of the end of 2007, the lawsuit said.

"Certainly, the current population is neither viable nor self-sustaining as was the goal of the Recovery Plan," the groups said in the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity also sued the Fish and Wildlife, hoping to force the agency to develop a recovery plan and habitat for the endangered American jaguar.

The group said that construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border will stop jaguars from re-colonizing their former habitats in the southern United States.

Slown said she has not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment.

The Interior Department abandoned attempts to craft a recovery plan for the jaguar earlier this year because too few of the rare cats have been spotted along the Southwest region of New Mexico and Arizona to warrant such action.

Fish and Wildlife concluded that the jaguar's recovery depended on conservation efforts in Mexico and Central and South America.

Jaguars once roamed the southern United States from Monterey Bay, Calif., through the Appalachian Mountains. They disappeared from much of their range during the past century.