Wolf News


Feds push Game Commission to allow Mexican gray wolf releases

Federal biologists count 110 Mexican gray wolves now on the New Mexico and Arizona landscape — just above an initial target set three decades ago under a recovery plan for the species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it is “imperative” to continue releasing captive wolves to increase genetic diversity among the wild population, but it is an effort state officials have stalled.

As demonstrators rallied outside in favor of wolves and other predators last week at the Santa Fe Community College, a Fish and Wildlife official addressed the State Game Commission about the issue during a public meeting. Joy Nicholopoulos, the deputy regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Office, told commissioners that boosting the wolf population is necessary to protect the endangered species’ long-term health. She also said the agency is “exploring alternatives to the state’s current resistance to wolf releases.”

Nicholopoulos was referring to a decision in June by New Mexico Game and Fish Department Director Alexa Sandoval to deny two applications from the federal agency for permits to release up to 10 captive Mexican wolves in the Gila National Forest.

The agency had requested a reversal of Sandoval’s decision, saying it was arbitrary and capricious. But on Thursday, the State Game Commission, appointed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, delayed a vote on the appeal. The panel will take the issue up again Sept. 29.

An attorney for the department said Sandoval was following state regulations in denying the permits.

Wolf advocates and environmentalists say the permit denials are one more example of a State Game Commission and game department that have predators in the cross-hairs.

Commissioners in May also denied a captive wolf facility permit sought by the Ladder Ranch Wolf Management Facility, owned by media mogul and conservationist Ted Turner near Truth or Consequences. Ladder Ranch has worked with the Mexican wolf recovery program since 1998, helping to acclimate captive wolves before they are released to the wild.

In January, the Fish and Wildlife Service released a final rule for Mexican wolf management in New Mexico and Arizona. The rule expands the captive wolf release area and further defines the circumstances under which an endangered wolf can be removed or killed for bothering livestock, domestic dogs, and wild elk and deer herds.

The federal agency is working to revise its 33-year-old wolf recovery plan by the end of 2017.

“Our desire is to work with the state toward the recovery of the Mexican gray wolf,” Nicholopoulos told the state game commissioners. “”¦ We aim to increase the wolf population and aim to improve genetic diversity. We plan to continue our path forward.”

But commissioners want Fish and Wildlife to provide more information about how increased wolf populations will affect deer and elk populations in the area.

“I think if we exceed these numbers or even double the population, we’re going to see severe impacts on the ungulate [elk and deer] population,” said Commissioner Ralph Ramos, a member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and a hunting guide.

Mexican gray wolves once ranged widely in the Southwestern United States and Mexico. By the late 1970s, biologists considered them extinct in New Mexico and Arizona.

The two states’ game departments worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish a recovery plan in 1982, which sought to put up to 100 wolves back in the wild.

The process was slow and has suffered setbacks — federal officials said one wolf released into the wild was shot and killed in May because it had habituated to humans. Between 2010 and 2014, however, the wild Mexican wolf population doubled to 100 animals within the federally established Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area of southwestern New Mexico and eastern Arizona.

“The 100 number was not a goal,” Nicholopoulos told commissioners last week. “It was a stopgap measure to keep them from going extinct.”

When federal and state game officials first suggested getting the population of wolves to 100, the blowback from ranchers in New Mexico’s Catron County, the heart of the wolf recovery program, was instant and hard, said David Parsons, a former Fish and Wildlife biologist who served as one of the early wolf program coordinators. Parsons now is a die-hard advocate for the wolves and coyotes. He said if the agency suggested more than 100 wolves, he believes ranchers would have rioted.

Now, he said, public opinion has swayed heavily in favor of increasing the number of wolves in the wild, despite the continued opposition from ranchers and some hunters.

This article was published in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

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.

Submit your letter to the Santa Fe New Mexican here.

Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
  • The New Mexico Game Commission, under Governor Martinez, has clearly become a tool of a small anti-wolf, anti-carnivore 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.
  • 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.
  • As the federal agency responsible for the recovery of endangered species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can and must move forward with releases of captive wolves, regardless of the Commission. The Service should be releasing entire families of wolves from captivity instead of deferring to state agencies that are clearly hostile to wolf recovery.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.

This story was also published in the following news sources. You can submit slightly altered versions of your letter to all of them.

Albuquerque Journal

Submit your letter here

Artesia News
Submit your letter here

Las Cruces Sun-News

Submit your letter here

Rio Rancho Observer
Submit your letter here.  

Arizona Daily Sun

Submit your letter here


Want to do more to help save Mexican wolves?

Contact the Governor’s office and request respectfully that she put an end to her Commission’s anti-carnivore state wildlife policies, grant the Mexican wolf permit to Ladder Ranch, and rescind the rule giving the Commission this authority.

Calls are most effective: 505-476-2200 The Governor’s office may try to tell you to contact the Commission. Please tell them politely, but firmly, that Governor Martinez is responsible for the actions of her Game Commission and your message is for her.

Email: http://www.governor.state.nm.us/Contact_the_Governor.aspx

You can also sign a petition to the Governor here.

Please contact U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe as well. 

Sample message:

I am calling to urge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to exercise its federal authority over the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction and stop allowing state game commissions in New Mexico and Arizona to undermine wolf recovery. The Service should be doing all in its power to ensure the recovery of endangered Mexican gray wolves. This includes going far beyond risky cross-fostering.  Please expedite the release of adult wolves and wolf families to improve the wild population’s genetic health.

Calls are most effective. Just tell whoever answers that you have a message for Director Ashe: 202-208-4717

Emails can be sent to dan_ashe@fws.gov


Click here to join our email list for Mexican gray wolf updates and action alerts.

Donate to support our work for Mexican gray wolf recovery here.

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