Hastings Environmental Law Journal


Kimberly Willis


As humans modify Earth’s landscapes and climate change fundamentally alters ecosystems, separately evolving wildlife populations may once again meet and interbreed with one another. This hybridization process may ultimately drive the less prolific of the two populations into extinction. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (“FWS”) has failed to fully utilize the tools within the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) to adequately address the unique problems of species hybridization. Although FWS has resisted attempts to delist species undergoing hybridization, their recovery plans and critical habitat designations fall short of maximizing the potential for species recovery. This paper first explores the current regulatory framework governing hybridized species under the ESA. Next, it demonstrates the shortcomings of FWS’s management decisions on hybridized species conservation using red wolves as the prime example. Finally, it concludes with recommendations to issue guidance on FWS’s approach to recovery plans and critical habitat designations for hybridizing species in the future.