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In the News: New Mexico conservation groups join legal fray over gray wolf pups

Santa Fe New Mexican – June 6, 2016

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Conservation groups filed suit Monday to prevent the state from removing two Mexican gray wolf pups from the Gila National Forest in Western New Mexico, where they were released in April by federal officials.

The wolves were just 9 days old at the time, and were the first attempt by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to mix pups born in a domestic litter with a wild litter of near-identical age.

Blending the litters is intended to increase the biological diversity of the wolves. Biologists at the time said it was a rare for the wild and domestic litters to be born so close together.

The state Game and Fish Department objected and sought a temporary restraining order in U.S. District Court seeking to halt the release of wolves and asking that the federal government recapture the pups.

Conservation groups countered Monday. Defenders of Wildlife, WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance filed a motion to intervene against the state. “The survival and recovery of the Mexican gray wolf will be harmed” if the state gets its way, the groups said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took no stand on the advocacy groups’ legal action, according to the motion.

Jon Horning, executive director for WildEarth Guardians, called the intention to remove the young wolves from the wild, “a crime against nature.”

Four other cases concerning the release and preservation of the Mexican gray wolves are pending in U.S. District Court and Arizona District Court.

Legal skirmishes started when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it planned to cross-foster pups and release adult pups in New Mexico and Arizona to increase the genetic variation of the species. Fewer than 100 Mexican gray wolves live in the wild. As a result the subspecies is prone to inbreeding, diminishing its chances of surviving, biologists say.

The state and federal governments have been at odds over the wolves’ presence in the Southwest since early 2015. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service twice proposed to release Mexican wolves in New Mexico. The state objected, saying the science and investigation into the impact the wolves might have on the land and residents were incomplete.

Landowners have also vehemently objected to the federal plan, saying the wolves hunt livestock at a high cost to ranchers and have been known to stalk children.

The service, as part of a recently settled lawsuit, said it will revise the existing management plan by 2017. But the state Game and Fish Department has maintained that the pups’ release has violated state law.

“We believe recent actions by the USFWS violate state and federal law,” New Mexico Game and Fish Department Director Alexa Sandoval said in May, when the department announced legal action would be taken to remove the pups from the state. “A review of the state law violations certainly belongs in state court,” she said.

The state maintains that U.S. Fish and Wildlife is required to obtain a permit in order to release wolves in New Mexico, something the federal government did not do. The federal agency says it doesn’t need a permit, and that it’s required to preserve the subspecies under the Endangered Species Act.

Regina Mossotti, director of animal care and conservation for the St. Louis-based Endangered Wolf Center, which helped bring the pups to New Mexico, said it would be difficult to remove the animals from the wild now.

“The pack that they are with now, that’s the pack that they know, that’s their family,” she said. But she also said that the center won’t know if the pups have been accepted by the new pack for a few more months.

This article was published in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

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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.
  • 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

Tell US Fish and Wildlife Service not to let anti-wolf state officials obstruct Mexican wolf recovery.


A sample message is below-remember that it will be most effective written in your own words, from your own experience.

Dear Secretary Jewell,

Mexican gray wolves are important to me and the majority of voters, and their recovery can help restore ecological health to our wildlands. Only four wolves have been released into the wild since 2009 and this year, the wild population declined for the first time in six years, from 110 wolves last year to only 97.
The longer the wild population goes without new releases, the worse the problems will become, requiring even more wolf releases in the future.

Instead of allowing political interference by the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, the US Fish and Wildlife Service must expedite the release of adults and families of wolves from captivity and must move forward with  the draft recovery plan based on the work of the science planning subgroup.

Obstruction by anti-wolf special interests and politics has kept this small population of unique and critically endangered wolves at the brink of extinction for too long and can no longer be allowed to do so.  Development of a new recovery plan and expedited releases that will together address decreased genetic health and ensure long-term resiliency in Mexican wolf populations must move forward without delay or political interference.


Sincerely,

[Your name and address]


You can make your letter more compelling by talking about your personal connection to wolves and why the issue is important to you.  If you’re a camper or hiker wanting to hear wolves in the wild, or a hunter who recognizes that wolves make game herds healthier, or a businessperson who knows that wolves have brought millions in ecotourism dollars to Yellowstone, say so.

Please email your letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe.

You can also copy your email to your members of congress, whose contact information can be found here. Include your full name, address, and phone number.

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Additional information:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has begun failed recovery planning processes for the Mexican gray wolf three times in the past decade. The most recent recovery planning process, which began in 2011, stalled amidst allegations of political interference with the science. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a scientific integrity complaint saying that USFWS has allowed politics to interfere with the new Mexican wolf recovery planning process by encouraging scientists to lower or forgo the numeric target for recovery, responding to demands to exclude Utah and other states from suitable habitat, and attempting to prevent the science subgroup from issuing final Mexican wolf recovery criteria.

In 2012, United States Congressman Raúl Grijalva – AZ sent a letter to the Secretary of the Interior asking for a full and fair investigation of the allegations of political interference.

The American Society of Mammalogists, the Society for Conservation Biology, and the Society for Ecological Restoration sent a letter to USFWS urging the government to immediately resume recovery planning for the Mexican wolf, and offering their assistance to help move the process forward.

Thank you for adding your voice on behalf of these important animals who cannot speak for themselves.