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In the News: State says it will sue U.S. Fish and Wildlife over wolf release plan

Albuquerque Journal - April 20, 2016

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SANTA FE — New Mexico officials notified the federal government today they will sue to block the planned release of more Mexican gray wolves without the state’s OK.

The state Department of Game and Fish called the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s release plan “unpermitted and illegal” and said it will go to court unless the federal agency backs down.

The state department last year denied the federal agency’s application to release wolves into the wild. But the Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced it planned to release a pack of wolves this year and also could place some captive-born pups into wild packs, in a bid to improve genetic diversity.

“The department cannot stand idle and allow the USFWS to ignore the laws and regulations of New Mexico, just as the department does not allow others to do so,” Game and Fish spokesman Lance Cherry said in a statement.

The “Notice of Intent to Sue” filed by a California law firm representing Game and Fish says the federal agency failed to comply with a provision of the Endangered Species Act that requires cooperation “to the maximum extent practicable” with states. It also alleges that USFWS would violate state law with the release.

Game and Fish’s Cherry said the department has had a “long-standing and proud tradition of responsible recovery of wildlife species in New Mexico. Recovery efforts cannot be successful without the support of all impacted stakeholders.”

A spokesman in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest regional office, John Bradley, said Wednesday the agency would not comment on pending litigation.

But in October, after the state Game Commission finalized the state’s denial of permits to the USFWS, the federal agency told state officials in a letter that it had “no option except to continue to move forward.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service “needs to improve the genetic diversity and reduce the kinship of the Mexican wolves in the wild to achieve recovery” and has the independent legal authority to do so, wrote Director Daniel Ashe.

The federal agency has gotten state permission for wolf releases in the past, but the relationship has soured under Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Her appointed Game Commission affirmed the department last year when it objected that there is no updated wolf recovery plan in place. The department contends a 2015 federal rule — expanding the wolf population objective and broadening wolf territory — is an interim measure, not a recovery plan.

Wolf recovery advocates, meanwhile, complained Wednesday that Fish and Wildlife has ordered a 2-year-old male wolf removed from the Gila National Forest for killing cattle. The Center for Biological Diversity says only 97 wolves were counted in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona in January, down from 110 the previous year. It says the wolf was drawn to cattle because the remains of cows that died from other causes were left around by ranchers.

“Mexican wolves are unfairly penalized because ranchers are not required to eliminate the lure of carrion,” said the center’s Michael Robinson.

This article was published in the Albuquerque Journal.

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Please help endangered Mexican gray wolves with a letter to the editor today!

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.

Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a legal and moral obligation to follow the best available science and do what is needed to recover endangered Mexican gray wolves in spite of politically motivated state opposition.
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service should stop letting anti-wolf state officials obstruct wolf recovery.  The last effort to create a Mexican wolf recovery plan stalled precisely because the states were given opportunities to weigh in before the work of the scientific experts was released for public comment. The most recent recovery planning process, which began in 2011, ended amidst allegations of political interference by these same states with the science.
  • In a 2013 poll of registered voters, 87% of New Mexicans agreed that “wolves are a vital part of America’s wilderness and natural heritage.”  80% of New Mexicans agreed that “the US Fish and Wildlife Service should make every effort to help wolves recover and prevent extinction.”  In thinking about wolf reintroduction, 73% of New Mexicans supported restoring wolves to the Grand Canyon region and northern New Mexico.
  • 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. The wild population declined 12% since last year’s count. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan to release only one family in 2016 is anemic, not aggressive.
  • The wild population of Mexican wolves is at tremendous risk due to its small size and genetics. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan to release only one new family from the hundreds of wolves in captive breeding programs is entirely inadequate to the need for genetic rescue. At least five new families should be released this year. The Service’s plan is actually passive-aggressive, pretending to help the wolves but again giving in to the states.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is allowing politics to override science based recommendations for wolf recovery. Right now, the Service has a plan to trap and remove a father wolf over livestock as soon as his mate has pups, without any requirement for livestock owners to actively protect their livestock from depredations.
  • Those who don’t want to see these unique native wolves go extinct should join the Rally for More Wolves, Less Politicson April 28th in Albuquerque. More information is at mexicanwolves.org.
  • For almost 4 decades, captive breeding programs in the U.S. and Mexico have worked to maximize genetic diversity so that captive wolves could be released to increase the wild population’s genetic health. But USFWS has released very few of these wolves.  Only four new wolves have been released in the past eight years and only one family will be released in 2016, after a 12% decline in the wild population. If this is an “aggressive plan” I’d hate to see a passive one.
  • Cross-fostering of pups is a risky and complex experimental technique. Opportunities for doing this successfully are extremely rare. At best, the Fish and Wildlife Service may be able to get a few new pups into wild packs. At worst, pups introduced into packs they were not born into may be killed or abandoned. A scientific genetic rescue plan will involve releasing many more adult wolves, not just cross-fostering.
  • Wolves are a benefit to the West and are essential to restoring the balance of nature.
  • Scientists believe that Mexican wolves will improve the overall health of the Southwest and its rivers and streams – just as the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone has helped restore balance to its lands and waters.
  • 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.
  • 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. Most wolves stay out of trouble.
Make sure you:

  • Thank the paper for publishing the 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 from the article, 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 150-350 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.”
  • 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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DO MORE FOR WOLVES

Take action to keep wolf father from being trapped and removed by the Government here.

Learn more about the Rally for More Wolves, Less Politics on April 28th here.