By Judy Calman / Staff Attorney, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance
The Journal Editorial Board wrote on Dec. 28 that the final Mexican wolf plan is based on compromise and reason, noting that the New Mexico Game Commission “approved” the plan, and that while wolf recovery is an important and worthy goal, “people matter,” too — implying that the people who matter are the people who oppose wolf recovery, although the Journal correctly notes later that wolf recovery has widespread public support, even in wolf territory.
Of course, people matter. Local politics is important. Compromise should occur wherever possible. But when we talk about the Endangered Species Act, especially when it involves predators in the West, we’re talking about values, federalism, science and long-entrenched feelings about western land management.
Wolf recovery is a federal program, administered on federal land owned by all Americans and paid for with federal dollars, i.e. your taxes. Cows are generally on federal land, too, as ranchers lease land from the U.S. Forest Service. And so it becomes a tussle over whose use of federal land “wins.” It’s true that wolves occasionally take cattle in the Gila. Not nearly as many as some people would like us to believe — USDA statistics indicate that only 237 of the 57,000 premature cattle deaths in New Mexico a year are attributable to wolves. But it’s also true that wolf deaths are the only type of cattle mortality for which compensation is available.
It’s great that the state Game Commission is now saying it supports the recovery plan, but the state has no real authority over wolf recovery because it’s entirely under federal jurisdiction. The Journal also forgot to mention that the commission pulled out of being a cooperating partner in the wolf recovery program as soon as Gov. Susana Martinez took office because she campaigned against wolf recovery. As the commission is completely appointed by the sitting governor at will, it has followed her lead in thwarting wolf recovery in every way it can think of, from removing itself from the program to trying to stop private landowners from helping with the breeding program to requiring the Fish and Wildlife Service to seek permits to release wolves. The agency has done this, and is perhaps regretting it, in order to appease the commission, and yet those permit requests have been continuously denied until the creation of this current plan, which, as luck would have it, gives most authority over wolf releases to the state Game Commission. It’s no shock that the commission likes it better than what was in place before.
This recovery plan was partially a compromise and it’s better than what we had. But it certainly was other things, too. An arm wrestle over state and federal jurisdiction, a power grab, a contest over western land management. And it certainly wasn’t based on science, which indicates recovery will happen only when there are more than twice the number of wolves called for in the final recovery plan.
Wolves are complicated. Western land management is complicated. It’s true that recovery will not happen without local buy-in. But that buy-in must be based in good faith and must listen to science. If the commission is serious about its support of this plan, it should ask the governor to re-join the program as a cooperator and should abstain from trying to limit or stop wolf releases into the state. It should also listen to the overwhelming majority of New Mexicans who want wolves to be recovered in the Southwest.
This Guest Column was published in the Albuquerque Journal.
Show your support for Mexican 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 for writing your letter are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience. Don’t try to include all the talking points in your letter.
Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
- The state of New Mexico should not be applauded for blocking the recovery of a critically endangered species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should instead be encouraged on the occasions they follow the recommendations of scientists, not accused of moving the goal posts of recovery.
- The federal agency charged with recovery of the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf has decided to put the onus of recovery on Mexico, despite the fact that this could wipe the species out. Mexico does not have nearly as much public land for the wolf, they have very little enforcement to deal with poaching, and as species shift north in response to climate change Mexican habitat will become even less suitable for wolves.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should include family groups in their release plan. Recovery won’t succeed unless they use all tools available to them, including the proven method of releasing family groups that include adult wolves.
- Cross fostering is one tool for improving the wild population’s genetic health, but it’s not enough. Many more wolves should be released this year from the hundreds in captive breeding programs. Rather than relying solely on cross-fostering, the Service should also release adults and families of wolves from captivity.
- Mexican gray wolves will need connectivity between wild populations in order to recover. Connectivity would be easy were they allowed to establish in the two additional suitable habitats in the U.S., the Grand Canyon area and the Southern Rockies. Instead, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is restricting the wolves to south of Interstate 40 and planning for no natural connectivity with the population in Mexico. There is a barrier along large sections of the international border, talk of extending that barrier to an impenetrable wall, and the last wolf who crossed that border was removed from the wild.
- The wild population of Mexican wolves is at tremendous risk due to its small size and genetics. There are hundreds of wolves in the captive breeding program whose genes are not represented in the wild population.
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, under 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.
Submit your letter to the editor of the Albuquerque Journal