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Op-Ed: Changing management of wolves is a bad idea

Las Cruces Sun News - Kevin Bixby – September 13, 2015

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For people who don't like them, it's always time to end protection for wolves, so the title of Jim Harbison's essay ("Time to end government protection for wolves," Sept. 3) comes as no surprise. But as the saying goes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.

The only thing lacking from Mr. Harbison's tales of wolves stalking humans was an appearance by Little Red Riding Hood — and the facts. The truth is, wolves generally avoid people. Documented wolf attacks on humans in North America can be counted on one hand. New Mexicans are more likely to be killed by a bee sting, domestic dogs or even cows than a wolf.

Mr. Harbison also suggests wolves are decimating the ranching industry. In fact, wolf depredations on livestock are rare. More than 40,000 cattle are authorized to graze annually in the Apache and Gila national forests where Mexican wolves occur, yet confirmed wolf kills average only 16 head per year over this entire 6,800-square-mile area. Even if we generously assume that many more wolf kills go unconfirmed, it's still clear that most wolves prefer wild prey over domestic livestock.

And when attacks on livestock do occur, ranchers can get compensation. The Mexican Wolf/Livestock Coexistence Council will not only reimburse ranchers for their losses, it will also pay them to implement proactive measures to avoid conflicts with wolves, and will even give them a cash reward for simply having wolves on their land or grazing leases.

Mr. Harbison claims wolves have devastated elk populations, and cites Yellowstone as an example. Mr. Harbison fails to mention that by the time wolves were reintroduced in 1996, Yellowstone elk numbers were unsustainably high. Wolves have helped to bring elk populations back into balance with their environment since then, along with other factors such as drought, bears and human hunters.

Mr. Harbison didn't tell us any of the good news about wolves in Yellowstone. He doesn't tell us scientists have documented the regrowth of streamside plant communities in some areas, the expansion of beaver wetlands, the improvement of fish habitat, and an increase in songbirds — all due to the return of wolves. And, by the way, Yellowstone elk numbers have started to rise again.

Despite the title of his essay, Mr. Harbison doesn't actually argue for ending government protection for Mexican wolves — the most endangered wolf in the world — but instead wants to turn their management over to the states of Arizona and New Mexico, as a bill sponsored by Congressman Steve Pearce (H.R. 2910) would do. Given that he has nothing good to say about wolves, why not just argue for letting them go extinct, as Rep. Andy Nunez did earlier this year during the legislative session?

I suspect it is because he knows advocating for the extermination of wolves would not sit well with most New Mexicans — 69 percent of whom support wolf conservation — and he understands that turning management over to the states sounds better but would have the same result.

Gov. Susana Martinez's administration is certainly no friend of wolves. After she was elected, her appointed Game Commission ended New Mexico's participation in the Mexican wolf recovery program and has since done its best to obstruct recovery efforts. This is the same commission that recently opened up millions of acres of state lands to cougar "sport" trapping, supports wildlife killing contests, and generally is hostile to our native carnivores. Putting Martinez and her administration in charge of Mexican wolf recovery would be a recipe for extinction, as Mr. Harbison and Congressman Pearce surely know.

Kevin Bixby is executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center.

This OpEd was published in the Las Cruces Sun News.

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Please stand for wolves with a letter to the editor

The letters to the editor page is one of the most widely read, influential parts of the newspaper. One letter from you can reach thousands of people and will also likely be read by decision-makers.  Tips and talking points for writing your letter are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience. Don't try to include all of the points below. Your letter will be effective if you keep it brief and focus on a few key points.

  • The New Mexico Game Commission, under Governor Martinez, has clearly become a tool of a small anti-wolf, anti-carnivore minority and its actions are out of touch with the majority of New Mexico voters who support wolf recovery and understand the important role top carnivores play in our ecosystems.
  • The New Mexico Game Commission’s blatant hostility towards wolves is of even greater concern given that New Mexico Representative Steve Pearce has introduced legislation that would remove federal protections for endangered Mexican gray wolves. People who want to see our native wolves survive and recover should contact their representatives and urge them to vote against any bills or riders that undermine wolf recovery or the Endangered Species Act.
  • Wolves are a benefit to the West and are essential to restoring the balance of nature. Actions to interfere with the Mexican gray wolf’s survival and recovery cheat us all of the opportunity to have wolves returned to their critical natural role.
  • At last official count, only 110 Mexican gray wolves were found in the wild, making them one of the most endangered wolves in the world. Actions such as NM Game Commission’s unwarranted denial of the Ladder Ranch and USFWS permits will only further complicate efforts to recover these rare wolves.
  • As the federal agency responsible for the recovery of endangered species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can and must move forward with releases of captive wolves, regardless of the Commission. The Service should be releasing entire families of wolves from captivity instead of deferring to state agencies that are clearly hostile to wolf recovery.
  • The federal government nearly drove the Mexican gray wolf to extinction in the 1900’s. We have a moral responsibility to do all we can to ensure these wolves do not go extinct and NM Game Commission is ignoring that sacred charge and their public trust responsibility.
  • Mexican gray wolves are unique native animals. They are the rarest, most genetically distinct subspecies of gray wolf in North America and the most endangered wolf in the world. State and federal agencies should do all in their power to move these special wolves away from extinction towards recovery. 
  • The livestock industry has a responsibility to share public lands with wolves and other wildlife. Wolves are responsible for less than 1% of livestock losses and there are many tried and true methods to avoid conflicts between livestock and wolves. Responsible managers and livestock owners emphasize conflict avoidance instead of scapegoating wolves.
  • Wolves generate economic benefits - a University of Montana study found that visitors who come to see wolves in Yellowstone contribute roughly $35.5 million annually to the regional economy. New Mexico stands to benefit from wolf-related tourism, but only if the Mexican wolf reintroduction is allowed to succeed.
Make sure you:
  • Thank the paper for publishing this Op Ed.
  • Submit your letter as soon as possible. The chance of your letter being published declines after a day or two since the article was published.
  • Do not repeat any negative messages, such as “so and so said that wolves kill too many cows, but…”  Remember that those reading your letter will not be looking at the article it responds to, so this is an opportunity to get out positive messages about wolf recovery rather than to argue with the original article.
  • Keep your letter brief, between 150-300 words.
  • Include something about who you are and why you care: E.g. “I am a mother, outdoors person, teacher, business owner, scientific, religious, etc.” Don’t be afraid to be personal and creative.
  • Provide your name, address, phone number and address.  The paper won’t publish these, but they want to know you are who you say you are.


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Want to do more to help save Mexican wolves?

Contact the Governor’s office and request respectfully that she put an end to her Commission’s anti-carnivore state wildlife policies, grant the Mexican wolf permit to Ladder Ranch, and rescind the rule giving the Commission this authority.

Calls are most effective: 505-476-2200 The Governor's office may try to tell you to contact the Commission. Please tell them politely, but firmly, that Governor Martinez is responsible for the actions of her Game Commission and your message is for her.

Email: http://www.governor.state.nm.us/Contact_the_Governor.aspx

You can also sign a petition to the Governor here.


Please contact U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe as well. 

Sample message:

I am calling to urge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to exercise its federal authority over the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction and stop allowing state game commissions in New Mexico and Arizona to undermine wolf recovery. The Service should be doing all in its power to ensure the recovery of endangered Mexican gray wolves. This includes going far beyond risky cross-fostering.  Please expedite the release of adult wolves and wolf families to improve the wild population’s genetic health.


Calls are most effective. Just tell whoever answers that you have a message for Director Ashe: 202-208-4717

Emails can be sent to dan_ashe@fws.gov

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