By Maggie Howell / Executive Director, Wolf Conservation Center
As representatives of facilities that breed endangered Mexican gray wolves in captivity in order to help re-establish this unique subspecies of the gray wolf in the wild, we urge the New Mexico Game Commission to allow the Ladder Ranch in Sierra County to resume holding wolves in pens that are remote from human contact.
The Ladder Ranch is one of only three Mexican gray wolf pre-release facilities in the U.S. Adjoining the eastern boundary of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness within the Gila National Forest, Ladder Ranch is uniquely situated to assist federal authorities in the recovery of Mexican wolves.
Through the generosity of owner Ted Turner, ever since reintroduction began in 1998 the Ladder Ranch’s secure pens and dedicated personnel have saved taxpayers money by holding wolves immediately after their removal from the wild and before releases into the wild.
The New Mexico Game Department’s May 7 denial of the Ladder Ranch’s permit to continue holding wolves — which the game commission is expected to uphold or overturn today in Roswell — comes just when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is finally, after 15 years of reviews and public meetings, poised to release captive-bred wolves into the Gila.
We do not speak for Ladder Ranch, but as partners in the American Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan we have long worked to breed Mexican wolves. Captive breeding kept the Mexican wolf from going extinct after the last five wolves were caught alive in Mexico between 1977 and 1980.
Three of these were successfully bred, and in 1995 their descendants were bred with those of four other Mexican wolves captured previously and until then maintained separately. By that time, there were no Mexican wolves known in the wild.
Recovery of the Mexican wolf must occur in the wild, and that is consistent with the Endangered Species Act’s first statement of purpose to conserve the ecosystems on which endangered species depend.
Wolves help maintain the health of their ecosystem through honing the fitness of the animals they seek as prey, ensuring the most alert and best runners pass on their genes; through keeping elk moving rather than sedentary and browsing on saplings along streams; through providing carrion for scavenging animals such as eagles and bears; and through controlling the number of coyotes, which the wolves regard as competitors, and thus helping keep smaller species of animals from over-predation by coyotes.
Mexican wolves in the wild face not only illegal shootings but also inbreeding from too few animals with few choices of mates. Inbreeding results in smaller litter sizes and fewer pups surviving to adulthood — one reason only eight breeding pairs of wolves survive in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico.
The solution is a resumption of releases that dwindled to just four captive-bred animals let go during the entirety of the Obama administration thus far. The Ladder Ranch’s facilities and personnel that have held over 90 wolves since reintroduction began, and its proximity to the recovery area, make it a trusted partner for federal biologists in both releasing and removing wolves.
Notwithstanding that in 2011 the New Mexico Game Commission withdrew from the cooperative interagency wolf management team, ceding the state’s place at the decision-making table, the commission should now affirm the value of cooperation and philanthropy in endangered species recovery.
Approving Ladder Ranch’s permit to hold wolves would demonstrate that these appointees of Gov. Susana Martinez recognize the broad public support for Mexican wolf recovery in New Mexico, nationwide and internationally, and do not want to get in the way of federal officials accepting the help that the Ladder Ranch continues to offer.
Also signed by Erin Hunt, director of operations, California Wolf Center; Virginia Busch, executive director, Endangered Wolf Center, Eureka, Mo.; and Darlene Kobobel, founder and CEO, Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center. The Wolf Conservation Center is in South Salem, N.Y.
This guest column was published in the Albuquerque Journal.
The NM Game Commission is trying to halt the release of all Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico. We need to let the public know more about this outrageous action to sabotage lobo survival. 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.
- 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 permit will only further complicate efforts to recover these rare wolves.
- The actions of Governor Martinez’s Game Commission to prevent the recovery of Mexican gray wolves are irresponsible and violate the public trust.
- The wild population of Mexican wolves suffers from declining genetic health, resulting from too many removals and too few releases from the captive breeding population. These endangered wolves can’t wait – more wolves must be released into the wild as soon as possible.
- Wolves are responsible for less than one half of one percent of cattle losses in New Mexico. Livestock growers are compensated for losses due to wolves and receive assistance to implement responsible coexistence measures.
- Ladder Ranch has been an important partner in the Mexican wolf reintroduction since 1997. Its valuable participation in this program should not be ended to serve a narrow political agenda.
- 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.
- 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.
Letter Writing Tips
Make sure you:
- Thank the paper for publishing this excellent guest column and make sure to reference it in your letter.
- 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.
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