A U.S. appeals court has lifted an injunction that temporarily prevented the federal government from releasing endangered Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico, but the state says the underlying case “will continue to move forward.”
Advocates said the ruling means the federal government is again free to release endangered Mexican gray wolves into the wild in the recovery area — in New Mexico, that means between Interstate 40 and the U.S.-Mexico border — despite the state’s opposition.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Tucson on Tuesday vacated a preliminary injunction sought by New Mexico’s Department of Game and Fish in district court last year. The injunction was sought as part of a broader claim by the state against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s wolf program.
“While we’re disappointed in the court’s ruling, the case will continue to move forward,” said Lance Cherry, spokesman for Game and Fish, in an emailed statement. “We’ll continue to do all we can to show how unpermitted, experimental release of Mexican wolves by the federal government will be harmful to New Mexicans.”
Fish and Wildlife spokesman Jeff Humphrey said, “At present, we and our solicitors are reviewing the ruling. Until we’ve reviewed that ruling, we’re not making any plans on what to do with wolves immediately.”
The appeals court said in its decision that Game and Fish “failed to present sufficient evidence to support a finding that it is likely to suffer irreparable harm absent a preliminary injunction.”
In 2015, citing an insufficient management plan, Game and Fish denied the service permits it requested to release wolves bred in captivity into the wild.
Fish and Wildlife claimed authority to pursue wolf recovery under the Endangered Species Act and placed two wolf pups in a den in the Gila National Forest in early 2016 without a state permit.
Game and Fish subsequently took the service to federal district court and won the preliminary injunction.
The appeals court decision essentially gives Fish and Wildlife a green light to move forward with its wolf recovery program in New Mexico, according to advocates — even as additional litigation plods ahead.
“The ruling is noteworthy in pointing out that the Martinez administration was unable to articulate any harms from the wolves,” said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity in Silver City. “The decision makes clear that the Fish and Wildlife Service has the authority to do what’s needed to save the Mexican gray wolf and other endangered species from extinction.”
The program has faced stiff opposition from southwestern New Mexico ranchers and the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez. Wolves are known to prey on cattle, and the return of an apex predator to ranch and forest lands in Grant and Catron counties has caused alarm.
“The Endangered Species Act gives them carte blanche to run over the top of anybody anytime, anywhere,” said Gila Livestock Growers Association President Laura Schneberger, about Fish and Wildlife. “It would be nice to see the state go ahead and look it over again, see if they can appeal it again or go at it from a different angle.”
The service counted at least 113 Mexican wolves in the recovery zone in Arizona and southwestern New Mexico in early 2017. That was up from 97 wolves in the wild the prior year.
In New Mexico, most of the wolves roam the Gila National Forest.
This article 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 captive population of Mexican gray wolves has enough genetic diversity that more releases of wolves could save the wild population from inbreeding, but more releases must happen, and quickly.
“¢ If New Mexico had not blocked releases of wolves in 2016, the population would be more healthy today.
“¢ The majority of citizens support Mexican gray wolf recovery. States should do everything in their power to help the program, not hinder it.
“¢ At last official count, only 113 Mexican gray wolves were found in the wild, making them one of the most endangered wolves in the world. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan to release only two families in 2017 is sadly inadequate to the need to increase the numbers and genetic health of endangered lobos in the wild.
“¢ If Senators Flake and McCain succeed in passing the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Plan Act, which aims to give states control over the process, states that have shown themselves to be hostile to Mexican wolf recovery would gain veto power over the Service’s recovery plan. This would spell disaster for the already fragile wild population of lobos. Lobos need more protections, not fewer. Fourteen endangered Mexican wolves were found dead in 2016. Hostility by the states, towards the recovery program, may embolden poachers.
“¢ A majority of voters in New Mexico want to the recovery program to succeed. Governor Martinez would gain more support from voters by working with the recovery program, rather than against it. In a 2013 poll of registered voters, 87% of both Arizonans and New Mexicans agreed that “wolves are a vital part of America’s wilderness and natural heritage.” 83% of Arizonans and 80% of New Mexicans agreed that “the US Fish and Wildlife Service should make every effort to help wolves recover and prevent extinction.”
“¢ 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.
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