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In the Press: Mexican gray wolf needed for ecosystem health

Guest Column, Santa Fe New Mexican August 1, 2011 (posted 8/2/11)

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The recent decision by the New Mexico Game Board to withdraw from the Mexican gray wolf recovery efforts speaks volumes about priorities of the administration of Gov. Susana Martínez. In the next 50 years, 30 percent — some 1,500 species of mammals on the planet — are projected to go extinct, largely due to the perturbation or collapse of healthy (wild) ecosystems.

Similar dismal projections have been advanced for other forms of wildlife. What role will New Mexico play in this crisis? The recent decision by the newly installed Game Board, individuals especially appointed to ensure healthy and productive wildlife populations for New Mexico, is a dangerous step backward. The science on this issue is clear, but once again, science was dismissed for short-term political gain.

The Mexican gray wolf reintroduction effort was unanimously supported by a resolution of the American Society of Mammalogists in 2007 at a meeting attended by 500 scientists.

We know that top predators are essential to healthy ecosystems. When top predators are removed, a cascade of other losses often follows. We also know that the Mexican gray wolf is the most distinctive form of wolf in North America and is globally significant because it harbors unique genetic variation for the species. We further know that, contrary to the bluster of a few politicians and shock jocks, wolves and humans can coexist. Wolves cause far less damage to livestock than other predators such as black bears, cougars, coyotes, wild dogs, or rustlers.

What about the economic argument? Elsewhere, healthy wolf populations have been a boon for the tourism industry. How about safety? Having raised a family in Alaska, where wolf packs moved freely through our neighborhood, efforts by some local politicians (and even a U.S. representative) to instill fear of this animal are simply laughable. What about our moral obligations? With some 7 billion humans on the planet and the population of New Mexico doubled in the last few decades, the onus is now squarely on us to make wise decisions regarding who will share the planet we leave to our children.

Fiddling is not a viable option. Stepping backwards to the ill-advised predator-control efforts of the last century is worse. We can do better. Will we hold our politicians and appointed officials accountable? New Mexicans should embrace our irreplaceable wild heritage. It's our state and our future. Demand that our decisionmakers maintain the few wild places left, such as the Gila Wilderness near Silver City, where I was raised. These areas must support rich, healthy ecosystems with all the players intact.

Joseph Cook was raised in southwestern New Mexico and is now a professor of biology and curator of mammals at The University of New Mexico. He lives in Corrales.

PLEASE SUBMIT A LETTER TO THE EDITOR.
Writing a letter to the editor is an excellent way to raise awareness about the Mexican gray wolf situation. It shows public officials that you support Mexican wolf recovery and expect that they will, too.

Please write a letter, thanking the Santa Fe New Mexican for publishing this column and agreeing with Professor Cook’s statements that wolves are important to ecosystems and the economy, and part of our natural heritage that must be preserved. Use your own words and talk about why wolves are important to you.

Letters can be submitted here.

Click here for the original post of this column on the Santa Fe New Mexican website.