Agency must decide on proposed endangered species listing for Mexican gray wolf by end of July, judge rules
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal judge in Arizona has approved a settlement requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a finding by the end of July on a petition that seeks to list the Mexican gray wolf on the federal endangered species list separate from other North American gray wolves.
Conservationists submitted petitions last August, arguing that a separate listing was biologically warranted and legally required.
WildEarth Guardians sued in federal court Jan. 19 in an effort to force the agency to issue a finding, contending that Fish and Wildlife had missed the deadline.
The settlement agreement was filed May 7. U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow signed an order approving it Wednesday and dismissing the lawsuit.
Tom Buckley, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Southwest Region office in Albuquerque, said Friday the agency expects to issue the finding by the July 31 deadline.
Buckley said the document already has been submitted to the regional office and is under review.
A positive finding on a species typically means the agency would conduct a one-year status review, an in-depth look to decide if the species should be listed.
The Mexican wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf, was exterminated in the wild by the 1930s. The federal government began reintroducing wolves in 1998 along the Arizona-New Mexico border.
"We think by listing the Mexican wolf separately from other wolves, it'll give the Fish and Wildlife Service the opportunity and renewed urgency to update its recovery plan to consider protecting critical habitat," said Nicole Rosmarino, WildEarth Guardians' wildlife program director. "It'll prompt Fish and Wildlife to closely review the recovery program and reintroduction, which have been faltering."
The reintroduction program in the Blue Range began with 13 wolves. Biologists had predicted a self-sustaining wild population of 100 wolves by now.
But the latest count at the end of 2009 found 42 Mexican wolves: 27 in Arizona and 15 in New Mexico. The number was a significant drop from the 52 reported a year earlier.
"That's a handful of wolves that's just struggling for survival," Rosmarino said.
-- Sue Major Holmes, Associated Press
Photo: A female Mexican gray wolf runs inside a holding pen at the Sevilleta Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico in 2009. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times