National Academies to Tackle Wolf Taxonomy

In an appropriations bill passed in March, Congress directed the USFWS to obtain an independent assessment on the taxonomic status of the red wolf and the Mexican gray wolf—both of which are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. At the request of the USFWS, therefore, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) appointed an ad hoc committee to conduct an independent analysis of scientific literature to answer two questions: (1) Is the red wolf a taxonomically valid species? (2) Is the Mexican gray wolf a taxonomically valid subspecies? The committee will summarize the relevant science, including research on the wolves’ evolutionary history and genetic diversity. NASEM has indicated the study will be completed by March 2019.

The hope of some in Congress and the administration is that the study can be used to cast the taxonomic distinctions of these animals in doubt, so as to make it easier to evade endangered species protections for them. On September 13, the NASEM committee held a public meeting to receive input on the proposed study. AWI attended the meeting and testified that the scientific evidence strongly supports a conclusion that the red wolf is indeed a taxonomically valid species. We also noted the absence on the committee of key scientists who have the greatest expertise concerning red wolves.

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