Fish and Wildlife Service releases draft recommended decision for Mexican wolves

A draft recommended decision in the Mexican gray wolf recovery plan would eliminate the population cap and temporarily restrict when a wolf can be killed, but environmental advocates say it still falls short of the reforms needed to ensure genetic diversity. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the final supplemental environmental impact statement for the proposed revision for the Mexican gray wolf regulations on Friday along with the draft recommended decision. The final recommended decision will be issued after at least 30 days have passed. 

This action comes following a 90-day public comment period that started in October. The Fish and Wildlife Service said they received more than 82,000 comments. The agency said in a press release that those comments did not result in any substantial changes to the final supplemental environmental impact statement.

Silverspot butterfly, found in northern New Mexico, could receive federal protection

A butterfly found in northern New Mexico could soon be added to the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Tuesday that it is considering listing a subspecies of the silverspot butterfly, which is found in high elevation areas ranging from 5,200 to 8,300 feet above sea level in parts of Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, as threatened. This follows the completion of a peer-reviewed species status assessment report. This is one of five subspecies of the silverspot butterfly and there are only ten known populations of this subspecies. The scientific name is Speyeria nokomis nokomis.

Federal appeals court rejects ranchers’ bid to overturn critical habitat designation for endangered mouse

A federal appeals court rejected two cattle groups’ arguments that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service inadequately evaluated the economic implications of designating critical habitat for the meadow jumping mouse in New Mexico. The Northern New Mexico Stockman’s Association and the Otero County Cattleman’s Association sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2018 following the 2016 designation of critical habitat. The ranchers who belong to those groups don’t own land in the designated critical habitat, however they have federal permits to graze cattle on allotments in the area. The rangers argued that the critical habitat designation will increase costs, impact their cattles’ health and lower property values. Private property sales can include federal allotments.

Pressure mounts to protect Mexican Gray Wolves

Last year, advocates for the Mexican gray wolf cheered when a judge ruled the problem of poaching was not adequately addressed in a management plan by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Those same groups now want the agency to address sustainability goals. Mary Katherine Ray, wildlife chair for the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, said there is currently only one population of 186 Mexican gray wolves or “lobos” living in areas of New Mexico and Arizona. “Currently they’re listed as being non-essential, which means that the Service believes the wolf population — if it were to completely disappear — that’s the definition in the Endangered Species Act — that it could be replaced,” Ray explained. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated Interstate 40 as the northern limit of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Area, meaning wolves can be removed or killed if they travel beyond the boundary.

Proposed revision to Mexican wolf plan removes population cap

Wolf advocates praised a proposed revision to the Mexican wolf management plan that removes a cap on the number of animals, but they say this change does not go far enough. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the proposed revision on Wednesday for public comments and the notice was published in the Federal Register on Friday, Oct. 29. In addition to removing the population cap of 300 to 325 wolves, the proposed revision establishes an objective for genetic diversity and temporarily restricts the killing of Mexican wolves. The proposed revision comes after the U.S. District Court of Arizona remanded a 2015 rule to the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2018.

Snake receives critical habitat designations in Arizona, New Mexico

A small snake that eats fish has gained additional critical habitat designations in New Mexico and Arizona under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a final rule in the Federal Register this week designating 23,785 acres of critical habitat for the narrow-headed garter snake in five Arizona counties and three New Mexico counties (Grant, Catron and Hidalgo counties). The majority of the land in the critical habitat is federal, however about a quarter of it is privately owned. The Glenwood State Fish Hatchery is also included in the critical habitat, although the snake has not been found on the property. The notice states that the “narrow-headed garter snakes are primarily found in rocky stretches of canyon-bound headwater streams that have perennial flow or limited spatially intermittent flow that is primarily perennial.” It rarely ventures far from water.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ordered to address poaching in Mexican wolf recovery plan

Conservation advocates say they won a partial victory in a lawsuit regarding the Mexican gray wolf recovery plan. A federal district court judge ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday to produce a draft recovery plan. This plan must be released for public comment within six months and must include site-specific management actions to reduce the number of wolves illegally killed. The plan must be finalized no later than six months after the draft is released. Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Endangered Wolf Center, Wolf Conservation Center and David Parsons, a former Fish and Wildlife Service wolf recovery coordinator sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2018.

Dispute over wolf cross-fostering in Catron County

After learning about a plan to place captive-born Mexican wolves in a den of wild wolves in Catron County, Rep. Yvette Herrell, a Republican from New Mexico, wrote a letter to State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard urging her to reconsider the move. “These activities are occurring less than two miles from the home of several of my constituents who have expressed to me their extreme alarm and fear for the safety of their family and livestock,” Herrell wrote in the letter dated May 7. “These constituents were only notified several days before the cross-fostering was to begin, giving them little time to voice their opposition.”

Garcia Richard granted permission in April for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to cross-foster wolves at the den. The cross-fostering of wolves is done to increase genetic diversity among the population. In her letter, Herrell said the cross-fostering places lessees at greater risk for harm caused by the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf.

Border wall poses new problems for the endangered Mexican Gray Wolf

A lone male wolf loped across the sandy landscape of the Chihuahuan Desert under a waning January moon in 2017, heading north. The male, known as M1425, was a member of a small population of endangered Mexican gray wolves reintroduced into Mexico in 2012. The wolf was doing exactly what male wolves should be doing: exploring the landscape in search of new habitat, food sources and possibly even a mate. M1425 spent two nights exploring the new range before turning south and heading back to familiar territory. The journey north, which took the wolf across the U.S.-Mexico border, was encouraging to researchers who tracked the animal’s peregrinations by GPS collar.

ESA rules could spell trouble for the lesser prairie chicken

The lesser prairie chicken can’t catch a break. The fowl, a relative of the sage grouse, has the misfortune of calling portions of the Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico home. Grazing, oil and gas development and water scarcity in southeastern New Mexico has decimated the bird’s population in New Mexico over the last 25 years. 

The species was briefly listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014, but after a series of lawsuits from industry groups, the bird’s listing is currently caught in bureaucratic limbo. Officials in southeastern New Mexico have pledged to keep fighting against attempts to protect it. And now, tweaks to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) could spell extinction for the bird.