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In the News: Ladder Ranch wolf program resumes with state’s OK

Santa Fe New Mexican – February 26, 2016

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The State Game Commission on Friday approved the transfer of five Mexican gray wolves from Washington state to Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch in Southern New Mexico, an action that activists say represents a shift in the commission’s policy and may lead to the release of more of the endangered wolves in the state.

The Ladder Ranch wolves, however, will be released to the wild in Mexico.

The seven-member State Game Commission’s unanimous decision comes just over a month after it denied a request from the ranch — also unanimously — to renew a permit to import and house Mexican gray wolves and prepare them for release in the wild, which the ranch had been doing for the past 17 years.

The ranch had suspended its wolf program for 14 months, giving the commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service time to debate the future of the federal Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program. In its opposition to more wolf releases, the commission cited an out-of-date federal management plan and a lack of new science to back the program.

When the Ladder Ranch permit renewal was denied in January, however, state game commissioners said they were “not against wolves. We want to manage them.”

Mike Phillips, executive director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, said he took the commission at its word and immediately filed an amended request to import wolves.

“The commissioners indicated they saw a way forward. We acted on that hope, and the director said, ‘Yes,’ ” Phillips said Friday.

Commissioners did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

The Ladder Ranch was permitted to bring in the first Mexican wolf earlier this month. Phillips expects to see the additional wolves arrive from Washington by the end of next week.

The wolves eventually will be taken to the Rancho la Mesa refuge in Mexico, before being released in the Mexican wild.

Phillips said the plan to release the wolves in Mexico — rather than in New Mexico or Arizona, where ranchers have raised objections — might have helped sway the commission.

“It’s the beginning of us moving back to where we were,” Phillips said of the ranch’s role in the wolf reintroduction effort. “We were a very useful facility.”

Michael Dax, an outreach coordinator with Defenders of Wildlife, said his group was supportive of the permit agreement between the commission and the ranch. But he objected to the decision to push the relocation of the wolves to Mexico. He said Mexico has too few public lands and too few prey animals to make this a viable option for rebuilding the Mexican wolf population.

The recovery of Mexican gray wolves in the wild has become more urgent in recent years due to a population decline between 2014 and 2015. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week that the number of Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico had dropped to 97 from 110, with 13 deaths and just 23 surviving pups.

The agency has said it intends to release more gray wolves in New Mexico, despite objections by the state Game and Fish Department.

“If the Fish and Wildlife Service had always needed state approval to let wolves go, I’d still be waiting on a dock in North Carolina to let the red wolves go,” said Phillips, who released the first red wolves into the wild through a federal program in 1987.

He said the State Game Commission has “made some decisions that I thought were a bit curious. But that is history, that is water under the bridge.”

This article was published in the Santa Fe New Mexican.


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Please take a stand for Mexican wolf recovery with a letter to the editor!

The NM Game Commission is doing all it can to undermine the recovery of endangered  Mexican gray wolves. Please take a stand now 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.

Submit your letter to the Santa Fe New Mexican here.

Talking Points

  • The actions of Governor Martinez’s Game Commission to thwart the recovery of Mexican gray wolves violate the public trust.
  • In recent polls, the great majority of New Mexicans support lobo recovery.
  • At last official count, only 97 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 permits will only further complicate efforts to recover these rare wolves.
  • Releases of more wolves, especially adult wolves and families, from captivity are desperately needed to improve the wild population's genetic health. The wolves cannot afford compromises between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state of New Mexico that limit wolf releases.
  • The New Mexico Game Commission, under Governor Martinez, 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.
  • New Mexico officials are obviously using the lack of a recovery plan as a flimsy excuse for obstructing wolf recovery. If Gov. Martinez truly wanted a science based recovery plan for wolves, she would urge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to move forward with the draft plan already developed by top wolf scientists instead of pressuring the Service to throw the science out. 
  • 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. State and federal agencies should do all in their power to move these special wolves away from extinction towards recovery. Instead, Martinez's Game Commission has chosen play politics with the wolves’ future.
  • 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 state is putting up roadblocks that could doom our lobos, but the feds are also dragging their feet on recovery and should stop trying to accommodate the political agendas of states that are hostile to wolf recovery.

Letter Writing Tips


Make sure you:
  • Thank the paper for this article and make sure to reference the article in your LTE.
  • 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, no more than 200 words. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.
  • 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.

Learn more about New Mexico's Game and Fish Commission's attempts to obstruct Ladder Ranch from participating in Mexican Wolf Recovery.



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You can also help by urging Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe not to let the states sabotage Mexican wolf recovery.  Act here.

Thank you for speaking out for lobos!