The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized revised management regulations for Mexican wolves in the wild. The final rule includes a modified population objective, a new genetic objective, and temporarily restricts three forms of take within the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area (MWEPA) in Arizona and New Mexico under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service also finalized a determination to maintain the nonessential status of the experimental population. The revised rule was developed in response to a court-ordered remand of the 2015 10(j) rule by the District Court of Arizona.
“This revision to the Mexican wolf 10(j) rule ensures we are on the best path toward recovery while continuing to provide a variety of tools to manage for conflict on the landscape,” said Amy Lueders, the Service’s Southwest Regional Director. “We look forward to continued collaboration with our state, federal and Tribal partners in ensuring the experimental population contributes to long-term conservation and recovery while also minimizing impacts on livestock operators, local communities and other wildlife.”
The rule revision brings the management of the wild population in line with recovery criteria for the species as identified in the 2017 revised Mexican wolf recovery plan. The final rule includes the following changes:
- Population objective: This revision aligns the population objective with the recovery criteria for the Mexican wolf in the United States: an 8-year rolling population average of at least 320 Mexican wolves with a stable or increasing population growth rate and more than 320 individuals in the last three years of the 8-year period. It removes the population limit from the 2015 10(j) rule that formerly allowed a maximum of 300-325 Mexican wolves in the MWEPA. In the U.S., there were at least 196 Mexican wolves in the wild at the end of 2021.
- Establish a genetic objective: Increases the number of captive Mexican wolf releases to continue building the genetic diversity of the MWEPA population, with the goal of 22
- released wolves surviving to breeding age by 2030. This objective aligns with the genetic recovery criteria identified in the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, First Revision. Since establishing a genetic recovery criterion in 2017, 13 released Mexican wolves have survived to breeding age in the wild.
- Take restrictions: To provide captive released Mexican wolves with a greater chance of reaching breeding age and contributing to genetic diversity, the Service will temporarily restrict three forms of allowable take until the genetic diversity goals are reached. The take provisions that will be temporary restricted include take on non-federal land in conjunction with a removal action, take on federal land, and take in response to an unacceptable impact on a wild ungulate (e.g., elk) herd.
In keeping with the Service’s mission to work with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people, the Service collaborated closely with the states of Arizona and New Mexico, as well as our federal, local and Tribal partners, throughout this process.
The Service published a proposed rule and draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on October 29, 2021, for a 90-day public comment period. The Service published a final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on May 13, 2022, that assessed the environmental impacts of the revisions.
The final rule will go into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register on August 1, 2022. The final rule will publish in the Federal Register under Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2021-0103.
- Final rule
- Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement
- Record of Decision.
- Mexican Wolf 10j Revision Summary
Questions and Answers: Final Revision to Mexican Wolf Management Rule
What action is the Service taking?
In response to a court-ordered mandate, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized changes to the management regulations for Mexican wolves (Canis lupus baileyi) in the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area (MWEPA) in Arizona and New Mexico under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act.
The final rule includes a revised population objective, a new genetic objective, and temporary restrictions on the use of three allowable forms of take of Mexican wolves in the MWEPA that were established in the 2015 10(j) rule. The rule revision brings the management of the wild population in line with recovery criteria as identified in the 2017 revised Mexican wolf recovery plan. The Service has also finalized a determination to maintain the nonessential status of the experimental population.
The final rule includes the following changes:
Revised population objective
- This revision aligns the population objective with the recovery criteria for the Mexican wolf in the United States: an 8-year rolling population average of at least 320 Mexican wolves with a stable or increasing population growth rate and more than 320 individuals in the last three years of the 8-year period.
- We removed the population limit from the 2015 10(j) rule, which formerly allowed a maximum of 300-325 Mexican wolves in the MWEPA.
- The population objective describes how many wolves we will manage for and is intended to ensure the population is robust in size and has a low risk of extinction.
- Managing for an average population size will allow for variation between years, which is normal for wild populations.
- Demographic targets established in the recovery plan were developed to mitigate the threat of extinction due to small population size. If these recovery criteria are met, population modeling predicts the species would have a 90% probability of persistence over the next 100 years.
- The current population of Mexican wolves in the MWEPA is a minimum of 196, based on the 2021 end-of-year count.
- After the 8-year average is achieved, the Service intends to continue managing the population for an average of 320 Mexican wolves until the Mexican wolf is delisted.
Revised release recommendations
The final revised rule increases the number of captive releases into the MWEPA to reach genetic diversity delisting criteria in the United States by setting a genetic objective of 22 released Mexican wolves surviving to breeding age. We expect to meet this goal by around 2030.
The 2015 10(j) specified a goal of 1-2 effective migrants per generation to increase genetic diversity. This equated to the release of 35-50 captive wolves by 2035.
This is in accordance with the best available data on the number and timing of releases needed to adequately reduce genetic threats from low genetic diversity and aligns management objectives with criteria set in the 2017 revised recovery plan.
Genetic diversity in the captive population is higher than in either wild population in the U.S. and Mexico. Increasing captive Mexican wolf releases in line with the revised recovery plan targets would result in a projected 90% of captive Mexican wolf genetic diversity being represented in the wild, which would alleviate genetic threats to the wild population.
Since establishing a genetic recovery criterion, 13 released wolves have survived to breeding age in the wild.
The revision also moves the release recommendation section of language from the preamble to the regulatory portion of the rule, therefore strengthening this management feature as it will become a part of the MWEPA regulation.
Henceforth, this component will be referred to as the “genetic objective.”
This language change establishes a genetic objective goal for the 10(j) rule, aligning it with the revised recovery plan.
Revision of three take provisions
Three allowable forms of take will be temporarily restricted while the Service makes progress on improving genetic diversity within the MWEPA.
The three forms of allowable take that will be temporarily restricted are:
take on non-Federal land in conjunction with a removal action,
take on Federal land, and
take in response to an unacceptable impact on a wild ungulate herd.
- In alignment with the genetic objective, these temporary restrictions will support Mexican wolf recovery by increasing the likelihood that released wolves will survive to breeding age and contribute their genes to the wild population by breeding with wild wolves.
- These temporary restrictions will be lifted when the genetic objective of 22 captive wolves surviving to breeding age has been achieved.
- There are exceptions for conditional permits on an annual basis.
- This revision reduces management flexibility because the Service cannot permit or authorize individuals or agencies in certain situations to take Mexican wolves, but the Service and designated agencies will still retain the management authority to address conflict situations.
Why is the Service taking this action?
In 2018, the District Court of Arizona remanded the 2015 final rule to revise the designation of the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area in Arizona and New Mexico. The ruling directed the Service to redress several components of the rule to ensure the experimental population contributes to long-term Mexican wolf conservation and recovery.
What is a 10(j) rule?
Section 10(j) of the ESA allows for the designation of reintroduced populations of listed species as “experimental populations.” Within the experimental population area, the specified population is treated as threatened under the ESA, regardless of the species’ designation elsewhere in its range. Treating the experimental population as threatened allows us the discretion to devise management programs and special regulations for that population.
Factsheet: Section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act (pdf)
What is the difference between an Essential and Non-Essential Experimental Population?
Section 10(j) provides for the designation of specific reintroduced populations of listed species as “experimental populations.” On the basis of the best available information, the Service determines whether an experimental population is “essential” or “nonessential” to the continued existence of the species. A nonessential designation for a 10(j) experimental population means that, on the basis of the best available information, the experimental population is not essential for the continued existence of the species. Regulatory restrictions are considerably reduced under a Nonessential Experimental Population (NEP) designation.
How did the Service determine to keep the Mexican wolves as a Nonessential Experimental Population?
The Service designated the MWEPA as nonessential in 1998 when we began the reintroduction effort. We are maintaining this nonessential designation as the captive population can be used to restart a reintroduction effort if necessary and because a second wild population now exists in Mexico. Based on population growth in recent years, the Service does not think failure of the MWEPA population is likely. However, the court determined a new determination is necessary. A nonessential designation is not a reflection on how important the species is, and it does not lessen the legal requirement for recovery. The Service will continue its work to recover wolves within the MWEPA as outlined in the revised recovery plan.
What did the Service evaluate in the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS)?
The FSEIS analyzes the environmental effects of three alternatives to revising the existing nonessential experimental designation of the Mexican wolf in the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area (MWEPA) under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act. The analysis included effects on biological resources, land use, environmental justice, human health and public safety, and economic activities such as ranching and big game hunting.
Will this action result in changes to the Mexican wolf revised recovery plan?
No. The remand process did not result in any changes to the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, First Revision. This recovery plan, finalized in 2017 and currently undergoing a second revision, replaced the original 1982 Mexican wolf recovery plan. This action aims to further the conservation of the species by aligning the designation and management of the experimental population with the Service’s long-term conservation and recovery goals for the Mexican wolf.
Is the Service changing the geographic boundaries of the MWEPA?
No. The geographic boundaries of the experimental population will not be altered by this action.
When will the revision take effect?
The revised management regulations for Mexican wolves will go into on August 1, 2022.