Saturday's Albuquerque Journal ran a story noting the extreme challenges facing the Mexican gray wolf (the common name for the gray wolf population in the Southwest). Unlike their cousins to the north, the reintroduction of gray wolves in the Southwest has not produced significant population gains. In fact, there are only about 50 Mexican gray wolves in the wild--half the numbers that scientist hoped to reach by 2006. The reintroduction program has suffered from a lot of problems, including poaching and the liberal culling of wolves found to have killed cattle.
Just as fundamental a problem is the program's meager goals for this population, which begin with establishing a mere 100 animals in a single area. When NRDC filed a Petition to prepare a nationwide recovery plan for the gray wolf last year, we noted that that these criteria were badly out of date and didn't reflect the best available science regarding minimum population viability. The Fish and Wildlife Service apparently agrees. In the summer of 2007 it began a public process to reexamine its recovery criteria for the Mexican gray wolf. But that effort stalled under the Bush Administration (big surprise, I know). Now that the Administration is on its way out the door, however, things seem to be thawing. Last Friday the Service announced that the availability of a "Draft Mexican Wolf Conservation Assessment" for public comment. While the formal notice that accompanied the announcement was careful to state that the Assessment "is a non-regulatory document that does not require action by any party," it hopefully is a prelude to formally reopening the recovery goals for this population.