By Lauren Villagran / Journal Staff Writer – Las Cruces Bureau
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to continue its wolf reintroduction program despite state opposition has provoked praise from advocates and condemnation from critics.
The service said Thursday it may release Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico in further efforts to recover the species, despite the state Game and Fish Department having refused the federal government permits to do so. Last month, the Game Commission upheld the department’s decision to deny the permits.
“Our preference is always to work collaboratively with states and we ask New Mexico to re-engage with us in these efforts,” the federal agency said in a statement.
Game and Fish criticized the agency for seeking to expand its efforts without providing an updated recovery plan for the Mexican wolf.
Both friends and foes of the Mexican wolf recovery program have been urging Fish and Wildlife to update its current plan, which dates to 1982 and is widely considered outdated. The service has failed to do so despite several efforts to convene stakeholders over the years.
In its permitting process, the state Game and Fish Department said it is required to evaluate whether wolf releases conflict with other wildlife conservation efforts, adding in a statement that “the director was unable to make this determination without the aid of a current Mexican wolf recovery plan.”
“The commission had no choice but to deny the appeal rather than support a release that is not based on the best available science and is contrary to statute and rule,” Game and Fish said.
“We want to know what is going to happen when wolves reach a certain number,” said Bill Montoya, vice chairman of the Game Commission and a former director of Game and Fish. “How big a range are they going to be included in? Where are they going to be released? That is something in a management scheme you need to know.”
The original 1982 plan set a recovery goal of about 100 wolves in the wild, but the authors expressed doubt that number could ever be reached.
Today, there are 110 Mexican wolves in the wild, but the federal agency says inbreeding has weakened the gene pool and makes the wild population’s long-term survival unlikely without the introduction of new, captive-bred wolves.
Fish and Wildlife expanded the wolf recovery area in New Mexico earlier this year from a section of the southwest corner of the state to the entirety of New Mexico south of Interstate 40 to the U.S.-Mexico border — although wolf releases would be limited largely to the Gila National Forest.
The Mexican gray wolf was brought to the brink of extinction by excessive hunting and, by 1980, just seven animals were believed to exist. The federal government began breeding the wolves, and in 1998 started releasing them in Arizona and occasionally transplanting them into New Mexico.
Until this year, releases of “new” wolves — those bred in captivity — had been restricted to an area in Arizona. But a new management rule that took effect in February allowed the service to introduce captive-bred wolves directly into the New Mexico wild.
Advocates say inserting captive-bred wolves into the wild is essential to diversifying a gene pool made weak by inbreeding, which results in fewer pups being born or surviving into adulthood.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, among the 110 wolves in the wild are eight breeding pairs.
Early this year, the agency requested permits of Game and Fish to release up to 10 Mexican wolf pups into existing packs in New Mexico — a practice known as “cross fostering” — as well as a permit to release a pair of wolves and their pups in the state.
Game and Fish denied the permits, as well as an appeal.
“Notwithstanding the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish’s decision to deny our permit, the Mexican wolf is still at risk of extinction,” the service said in a statement.
“It is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s obligation under the law to recover this species, and reintroductions into the wild from the more genetically diverse captive population are an essential part of that recovery process,” it said.
The Department of Interior this week exempted the wolf recovery program from its policy of complying with state permits.
“We are currently evaluating our options and the potential impacts caused by this decision,” Game and Fish said in a statement.
The move angered ranchers worried about wolves preying on their livestock.
“It’s not at all a surprise,” said Laura Schneberger, a Sierra County rancher and president of the Gila Livestock Growers Association. “They haven’t paid any attention to impacts the wolves have had. The state wanted to slow them down. They are going to continue to run roughshod over the state.”
Wildlife advocates applauded the decision, but also urged Fish and Wildlife to take immediate action. The agency has released only four captive-bred wolves over the past seven years; three are dead and one was removed to captivity.
“We’re very happy that the Fish and Wildlife Service is going to go ahead with Mexican wolf recovery and use its authority under the Endangered Species Act,” said Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center. “The next step is, when will more wolves be released into the wild and how many? It’s a crisis, with the genetic problems of the wild population. We hope that the service will move forward with releases of as many wolves as it takes and as quickly as possible.”
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. Don’t try to include all of the points below. Your letter will be effective if you keep it brief and focus on a few key points.
Letter Writing Talking Points & Tips
In denying permits to release Mexican gray wolves, New Mexico Game and Fish sought to undermine state and federal law. New Mexico law requires the state to recover endangered species, including the wolves, which are listed at the state and the federal level as an endangered species.
- New Mexico and Arizona polling shows that the vast majority of voters in both states support the Mexican wolf reintroduction. Instead of trying to undermine wolf recovery, the NM Game and Fish Department should be working to help these endangered native wolves thrive.
- The wild population of Mexican wolves is at tremendous risk due to its small size and genetics. Many more wolves should be released as soon as possible from the hundreds in captive breeding programs, and Governor Martinez’s Game Commission should not be allowed to stand in the way.
- The US Fish and Wildlife Service made a responsible decision not to let the New Mexico Game Commission put the wolves’ future at risk, and the Service should move forward quickly with new wolf releases, desperately needed to improve the wild wolves’ genetic health.
- A system that does not result in qualified biologists on the Game and Fish Commission is a system that is not working in the best interests of the state’s wildlife and people.
- Commissioners should be selected on the basis of their experience and ability to make science based decisions that are good for all wildlife, especially endangered species. Instead, they are being appointed to serve Governor Martinez’s political agenda.
- New Mexico needs a wildlife agency that honors and fulfills its public trust obligations by representing the best interests of all of the state’s wildlife, including keystone carnivores like wolves
- The New Mexico Game Commission is heavily biased against non-game species, especially important carnivores like wolves. This needs to change.
- Peer reviewed science by top wolf experts says that Mexican wolves need four things to recover: they need two new populations north of Interstate 40 and the ability to travel between the three populations; they need genetic rescue, which requires expedited releases from the captive population; human caused mortality must decrease; and there must be an absolute minimum of 750 wolves in the wild. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should move forward with all of these things now.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a legal and moral obligation to follow the best available science and do what is needed to recover endangered Mexican gray wolves in spite of politically motivated state opposition.
General talking points about the importance of wolves.
- Wolves are an essential part of the balance of nature. They keep elk and deer herds healthy by ensuring the most fit animals survive.
- Mexican gray wolves are beautiful, intelligent, family oriented animals who were persecuted and nearly exterminated by the government. Our state and federal government should do everything in its power to ensure these native animals do not go extinct in the wild again.
- Wolves are responsible for less than 1% of livestock losses. Most livestock losses are due to disease, accidents, and bad weather. The livestock industry has a responsibility to share public lands with wolves and other wildlife by using coexistence methods to avoid conflicts between livestock and wolves.
- Wolves are part of God’s creation. We have a responsibility to take care of them.
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, such as “so and so says 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 150-250 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.
Where to submit your letter:
This article was published in the Albuquerque Journal. Articles on the same topic appeared in several other newspapers. You can revise your letter slightly and submit it to all of these:
Submit your letter to the Albuquerque Journal here.
Submit your letter to the Santa Fe New Mexican here.
Submit your letter to the Las Cruces Sun News here.
Submit your letter to the Santa Fe Reporter here.
Submit your letter to the Artesia News here.
Unfortunately, federal agencies too-often bow to anti-wolf states and make decisions that are not in the best interest of Mexican gray wolf recovery. So in cases like this, where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to go forward with urgently needed releases in spite of state opposition, we want to give them lots of support and appreciation.
Please call or email Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe and thank them.
Secretary Sally Jewell: Phone: (202) 208-7351. Emails can be sent to email@example.com
Talking points for your calls or emails:
- I want to thank Secretary Jewell and Director Ashe for embracing their mission to recover endangered Mexican gray wolves and thoughtfully making a science-driven decision to move forward with releases to improve the wild wolf population’s genetic health.
- I hope that the decision to refuse to allow states to prevent actions necessary for Mexican wolf recovery will also apply to Arizona.
- I want to encourage the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to continue to follow the best available science and be willing to adaptively manage to improve the lobos’ genetic health — even if that requires more and faster releases than have originally been estimated.
- Thank you for doing the right thing for endangered Mexican gray wolves.
If you email, be sure to include your full name and address so that they know this is a legitimate message.