Silver City, N.M.— Gray wolves should be recovered in multiple, connected populations throughout the United States, according to a scientific petition filed today by the Center for Biological Diversity with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The petition asks for development of a national recovery plan for the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act to establish wolf populations in suitable habitat in the Pacific Northwest, California, Great Basin, southern Rocky Mountains, Great Plains and New England.
“Existing recovery plans for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains and upper Midwest are out of date and apply to a small fraction of the wolf’s historic range,” said the Center’s Michael Robinson. “It’s time to develop a national recovery plan to facilitate true recovery of the gray wolf.”
Currently, gray wolf populations are limited to the northern Rocky Mountains, western Great Lakes and Southwest, which makes up less than 5 percent of their historic range. In part, this reflects the fact that the gray wolf has never had a national recovery plan, though it has been listed in the entire conterminous United States since 1978. Instead, individual recovery plans have been developed for only the three areas that now harbor populations. These plans were developed in the late 1970s and 1980s and are now outdated. Besides failing to recognize that wolves can be recovered to other areas, the plans set population goals well below what are now considered necessary for population health and survival. In the northern Rocky Mountains, for example, the recovery plan only called for 30 breeding pairs, split between three subpopulations.
“Small, isolated wolf populations are a recipe for extinction,” said Robinson. “Science teaches us that we need far more wolves that range across a much wider swath of the continent than the current minimalistic approach.”
The Center’s petition starts a process in which the Fish and Wildlife Service must make a determination on whether to develop such a recovery plan based on the science in the petition and the requirements of the law. The Endangered Species Act requires recovery of endangered animals and plants throughout all significant portions of their range.
“Wolves are an engine of evolution,” said Robinson. “They help feed bears, eagles and wolverines with the leftovers from their kills; they help pronghorn antelope and even foxes survive by controlling coyotes. A continent-wide approach to wolf recovery is necessary both to save the wolf and to restore ecosystems across the United States.”