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In the News: Wolf recovery fight coming to Roswell

Roswell Daily Record – October 20, 2015

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Ranchers worry about predators attacking livestock

The New Mexico State Game Commission will hold a public hearing in Roswell next month to consider an appeal by media mogul Ted Turner to import and possess Mexican gray wolves at his sprawling ranch in south-central New Mexico.

The Game Commission is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Nov. 19 at Pearson Auditorium on the campus of New Mexico Military Institute.

On the agenda, among other items, is an appeal by Turner Endangered Species Fund, which requested a permit renewal to hold wolves in captivity at the Ladder Ranch.

The Ladder Ranch, private property owned by Turner, applied for permits to import and possess Mexican gray wolves at the 156,439-acre ranch property in south central New Mexico, where Turner is raising endangered Mexican wolves and bison.

The Game Commission earlier this year voted unanimously to deny the Ladder Ranch wolf applications. Cattle ranchers praised the Game Commission’s [auth] decision, while environmental and wildlife groups oppose the decision.

Game Commissioners have said they couldn’t approve the permit because of the failure of the federal government to update a decades-old recovery plan for the wolves.

Officials with the Turner Endangered Species Fund said denying their permit applications will not lead to a new recovery plan.

Turner, former owner of CNN, has purchased 1.7 million acres in New Mexico, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana and South Dakota since 1987, becoming the largest private landowner in the United States.

In New Mexico, the billionaire owns almost 1.1 million acres, or 1.5 percent of the nation’s fifth-largest state.

The sprawling Ladder Ranch, in the foothills of the Black Range east of the Gila Mountains and south of Truth Or Consequences, is caught in the middle of a dispute between the state and federal wildlife officials over management of the Mexican gray wolf.

The seven-member Game Commission on Sept. 29 upheld a previous decision by New Mexico Game and Fish Director Alexa Sandoval to deny the federal government a permit to release Mexican gray wolves in the Gila National Forest.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife is appealing the state Game Commission’s Sept. 29 decision at a meeting held in Albuquerque.

Dan Williams, spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, told the Daily Record on Monday that the Game Commission frequently holds hearings across the state, and the Nov. 19 meeting in Roswell has been scheduled in the Alien City for months.

“It’s not like they scheduled this one just because of any particular agenda item,” Williams said. “It’s been scheduled since the beginning of the year.”

Following the Game Commission’s Sept. 29 decision declining to issue permits to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, more than three dozen environmental groups asked the federal government to release at least five packs of Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico to bolster the genetics of the endangered predators.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the wolf recovery effort, noted that improving the gene pool has been a driver for recent decisions aimed at expanding the program and that the agency has an obligation under the Endangered Species Act to recover the subspecies.

Members of the New Mexico Game Commission and the director have voiced concerns about new wolf releases because the federal government has yet to update its decades-old recovery plan for the species.

The state Game and Fish Department, which withdrew from the recovery program years ago, also claims federal officials haven’t done enough to analyze the social and economic effects of having more wolves on the landscape.

Ranchers have been among the strongest critics, saying their communities and livelihoods are being threatened.

Chaves County Commissioner James Duffey, a sheep rancher at East Grand Plains, said wolves were hunted to make ranching possible in the West.

“There was a reason they were eradicated to begin with and that’s because of livestock and livestock reduction,” Duffey said. “We’ll probably be back in the same shape again if we get infestation of those things in here again.”

Duffey, who has about 150 ewes, said wolves threaten both sheep and cattle ranching.

“We have enough problems with coyotes and domesticated dogs, at least I do, and then you put wolves on top of that, it could be devastating to my sheep operation,” Duffey said.

“That area for sheep production has gotten smaller and smaller because of predators already. I mean the coyotes have about put those guys out of business, some of them anyway, and it’s gotten smaller and smaller. You throw the wolves on top of it, it won’t be good. Wolves are even tough on cattle.”

Despite the Ladder Ranch permit issue, the coordinator of the wolf program said that the federal agency plans to move ahead with wolf releases.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to pursue the reintroduction of wolves within the bounds of the Gila National Forest, to include one additional mating pair with pups, and up to 10 pups for cross-fostering with other parents.

Officials say without the reintroduction of additional wolves, the lack of genetic diversity could damage the successful reintroduction and recovery of the Mexican gray wolf species.

At a Sept. 29 Game Commission hearing in Albuquerque, Sherry Barrett, the Mexico Wolf Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Offices, said the federal Fish and Wildlife Service continues to wish to work on the recovery of the Mexican Wolf.

“The population at this time is continuing to grow substantially, adequately on its own,” Barrett said. “We’ve had about a 20 percent growth over the last few years and we do expect to continue to have a 10 percent growth per annual count that we have each year. So the growth is not our goal at this point for release of Mexican Wolves, but rather the increase of the genetic health of the wild population.”

Barrett said the Mexican wolf is a very recoverable species whose principal enemy is human.

“(I)n the case of the Mexican Wolf, it was eradicated from the wild as a result of intolerance of humans and it was also, that’s its greatest impediment right now to its recovery of social intolerance,” Barrett said. “But those are things that we can work together to overcome and I would look forward to working with the department into the future to figure out the best ways to recover the Mexican Wolf into its native habitat, especially that which must include New Mexico and to get the Mexican Wolf eventually recovered, delisted from the Endangered Species Act, which would then again put it back into the management of the state of New Mexico.”

There are at least 110 Mexican wolves roaming parts of the Apache National Forest in Arizona and the Gila National Forest in New Mexico.

Reintroduction of wolves started in 1998, but the effort has been hampered over the years by politics, illegal killings and other factors. Disputes over the program’s management also have spurred numerous legal actions.

The reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf has been fraught with controversy since its inception in the 1970s. Animal advocacy groups — like the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club — have rallied behind the wolf’s return to the Southwest. Opponents have come most vocally from the ranching and herding communities, who claim the cost to their livestock would be too high.


This article was published in the Roswell Daily Record.

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Please take a stand for Mexican wolf recovery 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.

Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
  • The actions of the New Mexico Game Commission in denying these permits are petty and violate the public trust.
  • For 17 years, Ladder Ranch has been an excellent partner in the effort to pull Mexican wolves back from the brink of extinction. New Mexico Game Commission has given no good reasons for denying the Ladder Ranch or USFWS permits because it has none-only a desire to block the recovery of these native wolves. These decisions should be reversed.
  • 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.
  • The New Mexico Game Commission has clearly become a tool of a small anti-wolf 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Make sure you:
  • Thank the paper for publishing this article.
  • 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.
  • Submit your letter to the Editor of the Roswell Daily Record here.

Want to do more to help save Mexican wolves?


Take a stand for endangered lobos at the NM Game Commission meeting.

Thursday, November 19th

New Mexico Military Institute
Pearson Auditorium
101 West College Blvd.
Roswell, NM 88201, USA (map)

The New Mexico Game Commission has shown itself hostile to Mexican gray wolf recovery, first ending its participation in the recovery program in 2011, then denying Ted Turner's Ladder Ranch permits to assist with Mexican wolf recovery, and finally, denying the US Fish and Wildlife Service permits to release endangered wolves into New Mexico.

The Turner Endangered Species Fund (TESF) or their designee will present an appeal of the Department’s denial of the TESF’s application to Import and Possess Mexican Gray Wolves on the Ladder Ranch.

The Ladder Ranch appeal of the commission's denial of their permit is item 7 on the agenda for the commission meeting on Nov. 19th. The full meeting agenda is here.

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