By Elizabeth Miller
Mexican wolf recovery stalled out this morning when an appeal from the US Fish and Wildlife Service failed to convince the New Mexico Game Commission to permit releases of additional captive-bred wolves to add to roughly 100 of the animals spread over millions of acres of wilderness in Arizona and New Mexico. The state’s decision may lead the federal agencies to call upon the superseding authority of the US Secretary of the Interior.
“Recovery of the Mexican wolf remains our goal and our statutory responsibility,” a statement from the Fish and Wildlife Service following the decision reads. “New Mexico Department of Game and Fish’s denial of state permits cannot stand as a significant impediment to the recovery of the Mexican wolf”¦Strategic releases of genetically desirable wolves are urgently needed and we must move forward to insure the genetic robustness of the population.”
The state Game Commission voted unanimously to uphold Game and Fish Director Alexa Sandoval’s decision to refuse to allow the US Fish and Wildlife Service to release additional wolves, including two adults with their associated pups and up to 10 pups to be “cross fostered,” a process in which captive-born wolf pups are placed with wild parents to be brought up in the wilderness and have a greater chance of success there.
“The commission was just supporting a bad decision made by their director. After all, they appointed her, so they have to show some confidence in her,” says Dave Parsons, who oversaw the USFWS recovery program when the first Mexican wolves were reintroduced into the wild (he has since left the agency). New Mexico wasn’t a fan of the reintroduction then, either, but public pressure and a court order prevailed.
Though its August meeting, in which the commission heard additional information from the Fish and Wildlife Service on the proposed releases, was filled to overflowing at a venue with 300 seats, the commission opted to move to a ballroom half that size for the September meeting in which they’d issue a decision on the appeal.
The meeting agenda did not call for public comment, yet the 143-person capacity ballroom at Embassy Suites in Albuquerque was filled to capacity, and a Game and Fish Department employee guarding the door refused to permit people, including two journalists, to enter unless someone exited, and also refused to open the doors to allow those waiting in the hallway to listen to proceedings. The shouting would likely reach levels that could be heard outside the closed doors, he told nearly a dozen people waiting for word on the issue.
True enough, shortly after the vote, the doors erupted with the first angry meeting attendee, who stormed out declaring the whole commission a farce and encouraging others not to give any validity to a commission obviously in bed with ranchers.
The word, when it did come out, was that the commission assessed Sandoval’s choice based on whether she had reached a reasonable or rational conclusion, and determined that she had. More than half of the meeting attendees vacated the room at that determination, some booing, some howling, many carrying signs that read “More wolves, less politics,” and one pair in a wolf costume and Little Red Riding Hood cape.
“They’re not interested in science,” Irini Georgas, a 10-year New Mexico resident, told SFR. “The rights of the ranchers are protected, but what about the rights of the animals?”
Most of the Mexican wolves in the wild are basically as genetically similar as siblings, according to the USFWS, and that shallow gene pool may make it tough for them to thrive. The species had been eradicated from the American Southwest by the middle of the 20th century and was listed as endangered in 1977; formal reintroduction efforts begun in 1998 with seven wolves. After two decades, the wild population hovers just over 100, the original objective set when biologists weren’t even certain the handful of wolves left in captivity could be successfully re-established in the wild.
During the entire Obama administration, only four wolves have been released, said Michael Robinson, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, and they’ve all been shot, captured for leaving the recovery area or killed under circumstances yet to be publicly released. He characterizes the situation with Mexican wolves now as a “genetic emergency.”
“This will only get worse,” Robinson says. “More and more of the genetic diversity will be lost unless more wolves are released into the wild.”
No one, least of all the USFWS, should be surprised by this choice by the State Game Commission, he says, New Mexico having withdrawn its support for the Mexican wolf program in 2011; that same year, the state permitted leg trapping for coyotes in the wolf recovery area, meaning wolves would likely be snared in traps set for coyotes. Parsons says he overheard two game commissioners in the men’s room before the meeting muttering about “crazy wolf people.”
“How could the Fish and Wildlife Service conceivably have thought Susana Martinez’s administration was going to change its spots?” Robinson asks. “The US Fish and Wildlife Service needs to do its job and release wolves into the Gila.”
The federal regulations outlining endangered species recovery suggest that the Fish and Wildlife Service seek cooperation from the states involved, but state decisions don’t overrule their obligation to protect the species from extinction. Without a greater population and a deeper gene pool, extinction of Mexican wolves “remains a serious possibility,” Parsons says.
Whether the USFWS or the Secretary of the Interior will share that view and make an effort to circumvent the Game Commission’s ruling remains to be seen.
“It’s our policy—in written policy in the code of federal regulations—that we work with the states through their permitting process, except if it would deter us from our statutory responsibility,” says Jeff Humphrey, public affairs specialist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the “statutory responsibility” being to bring species back from the edge of extinction. “That is under consideration by our leadership right now.”
This article was published in the Santa Fe Reporter.
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 release permits will only further complicate efforts to recover these rare wolves.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has the authority and the responsibility to do what is needed to recover these highly endangered wolves. The Service can, and should, override the state’s wrong-minded actions and release wolves to boost the wild population’s genetic health as soon as possible.
- It is high time that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe stop trying to appease state agencies that are hostile to wolves and other wildlife and enforced the Endangered Species Act.
- Mexican gray wolves are beautiful, intelligent animals that belong in the Southwest.
- The actions of Governor Martinez’s Game Commission to prevent the recovery of Mexican gray wolves are irresponsible and violate the public trust.
- 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.
- The state is putting up roadblocks that could doom our lobos, but the feds are also dragging their feet on recovery. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should move forward with releases of adult wolves and families and should establish two new Mexican wolf populations north of I-40, as scientists have urged.
LETTER WRITING TIPS
Make sure you:
- Thank the paper for this article and make sure to reference it in your LTE.
- 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, no more than 200 words. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.
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WHERE TO SUBMIT YOUR LETTER:
Articles on the same topic appeared in multiple newspapers. You can submit letters to all of these:
Arizona Daily Sun New Mexico wildlife panel denies federal wolf permit appeal
Submit your letter to the Arizona Daily Sun here.
Submit your letter to the ABQ Journal here.
The Taos News Game Commission won’t overturn rejection of feds’ permits for Mexican wolf releases
Submit your letter to The Taos News here.
San Antonio Express News New Mexico wildlife panel denies federal wolf permit appeal
Submit your letter to the San Antonio Express News here.
Please contact Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe and tell them to override the state’s decision.
Even before Arizona and New Mexico decided to block releases of wolves into the wild, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dragged its feet on releasing new wolves from captivity. Instead of deferrring to the states, the Service should do its job and expedite the release of many more wolves into the wild.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell: I am calling to urge the Secretary to exercise her federal authority over the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction and to stop allowing state game agencies in New Mexico and Arizona to undermine wolf recovery. The Department should be doing all in its power to ensure the recovery of endangered Mexican gray wolves. Please expedite the release of adult wolves and wolf families to improve the wild population’s genetic health, rather than just relying on risky cross-fostering, and do not give in to state wildlife agencies made up of hostile special interests.
Calls are most effective. Just tell the person who answers that you have a message for Secretary Jewell: Phone: (202) 208-7351. Emails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you email, you can copy the message to the Secretary above to the email address for Director Dan Ashe below.
US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe
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. Please expedite the release of adult wolves and wolf families to improve the wild population’s genetic health, rather than relying on risky cross-fostering, and stop giving in to state wildlife agencies made up of hostile special interests.
Calls are most effective. Just tell the person who answers that you have a message for Director Ashe: 202-208-4717