Questions and Answers: Proposed Changes to Mexican Wolf Management Rule
What action is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service taking?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is proposing 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 (ESA) in response to a court-ordered mandate.
The Service is proposing revisions to modify the population objective, establish a genetic objective, and temporarily restrict three allowable forms of take of Mexican wolves in the MWEPA that were established in the 2015 10(j) rule. The Service is also proposing to maintain the nonessential designation of the MWEPA. The proposed rule would bring management of the wild population in line with recovery criteria for the species as identified in the 2017 revised Mexican wolf recovery plan. The proposed changes will address the following:
Why is the Service proposing 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. The Service has a court-ordered deadline to complete revision of the rule by July 1, 2022.
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: ESA: Experimental Populations
What is the difference between an Essential and Nonessential Experimental Population?
Section 10(j) of the ESA 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 the Service began the reintroduction effort. However, the U.S. District Court ruled that a new determination is necessary. Per the court order, the Service reconsidered the Nonessential Experimental Designation for the U.S. population of Mexican wolves. The Service has determined a change to the nonessential experimental population designation is not warranted as: 1) the captive population can be used to restart a reintroduction effort if necessary, and 2) a second population of wild Mexican wolves has been established in Mexico. The Service is therefore proposing to maintain the nonessential designation.
Based on population growth in recent years, the Service does not anticipate failure of the MWEPA population is likely. A nonessential designation is not a reflection of how important the species is, and it does not lessen the legal requirement for recovery. The Service continues its work to recover wolves within the MWEPA as outlined in the 2017 revised recovery plan.
What did the Service evaluate in the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement?
The draft supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) analyzes how the proposed revisions will impact biological resources, land use, environmental justice, and economic activities such as ranching and big game hunting.
In an effort to eliminate repetitive discussions of issues previously addressed, exclude from consideration issues already decided, and to focus on the issues the court ordered us to review the Service tiered from the 2014 Final EIS. Where appropriate and pertinent to proposed revisions, the Service provided and analyzed updated data and new information that has become available since the 2014 Final EIS that is pertinent to the proposed action and alternatives.
What is the Service seeking comment on?
The Service is seeking comments from the public on proposed revisions to the 2015 10(j) rule and the DSEIS. The Service wants to ensure that any final rule developed from this proposed revision to the 2015 10(j) rule is as effective as possible. Therefore, the Service requests comments or information from other concerned government agencies, Native American Tribes, the scientific community, industry, the general public, and other interested parties concerning the proposed revisions. Comments should be as specific as possible.
Will this action result in changes to the Mexican wolf revised recovery plan?
No. The remand process will not result in any changes to the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, First Revision. This recovery plan, finalized in 2017, replaced the original 1982 Mexican wolf recovery plan. The proposed 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.
How has the Service collaborated/engaged with partners and stakeholders in this process?
The Service collaborated closely with the states of Arizona and New Mexico, as well as federal, local and tribal partners, throughout this process.
The Service invited 60 agencies to serve as Cooperating Agencies during this process. Twenty-four accepted and signed the Memorandum of Understanding to serve as Cooperating Agencies. The Service held 11 meetings with these Cooperating Agencies during 2020 and2021. The Service also met several times with the Mexican Wolf Tribal Working Group, a working group open to all Tribes, and attended other tribal coordination meetings to discuss the rule revision.
What is the history of Mexican wolf recovery?
Mexican wolves were initially listed as an endangered subspecies under the Endangered Species Act in 1976. A bi-national captive breeding program with Mexico was initiated in the following years. The Service approved a recovery plan in 1982, and an Environmental Impact Statement was released in 1996, identifying suitable habitat for reintroduction. In 1998, the Service designated a nonessential experimental population of Mexican wolves in the MWEPA to provide the regulatory framework for how the reintroduced population would be managed. The first 11 captive Mexican wolves were released later that year, and captive releases have continued in support of long-term conservation and recovery goals.
In 2015, the Service announced the final revision to the Regulations for the Nonessential Experimental Population of the Mexican wolf under section 10(j) of the ESA. This revised the regulations in the 1998 rule to more effectively support reintroduction. In 2017, the Service completed the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, First Revision, providing science-based recovery criteria for delisting and guidance on reaching those goals, so the species can ultimately be delisted and their management turned over to the appropriate states and tribes.