By Lauren Villagran / Journal Staff Writer – Las Cruces Bureau
Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch will ask the state Game Commission on Thursday to overturn the department director’s denial of its permit to host endangered Mexican wolves in southwest New Mexico as part of the federal government’s recovery program.
The commission rejected the Ladder Ranch’s request in May to renew a permit that had been in place for 17 years to hold Mexican wolves in captivity — an attempt, wolf advocates say, to throw a wrench in the reintroduction program.
The commission’s denial of the Ladder Ranch permit was the first of several contentious decisions this year that have pitted the state against the federal government’s plans to reintroduce the Mexican wolf into the wild.
In September, the commission denied the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s request for permits to release Mexican wolves and pups in New Mexico, citing concerns about the government’s long-term plans for the program, including the lack of a target number for the wild population.
Weeks later, the service said it would use its federal authority under the Endangered Species Act to go forward with releases despite state opposition.
“I’m hoping that we can find a way to go forward together,” said Mike Phillips, director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, which runs the Ladder Ranch. “Everybody has to be mindful that the Ladder Ranch facility is just wolves in captivity.”
The Ladder Ranch, outside the Gila National Forest, acts as a way station for wolves bred in captivity before they are released by Fish and Wildlife in New Mexico or Arizona.
Fish and Wildlife has relocated wild wolves to New Mexico at times since the reintroduction program began in 1998, but the agency has yet to introduce “new” wolves into New Mexico — those bred in captivity — under the authority of a new management rule that went into effect earlier this year.
The new rule expanded the area where the agency can release wolves to include the Gila National Forest; it also expanded the area where the wolves are permitted to roam, meaning it now stretches from Interstate 40 to the U.S.-Mexico border. Previously, “new” wolf releases took place in Arizona.
Ranchers in New Mexico have long opposed reintroduction of wolves, which have been known to prey on cattle and domestic animals.
The Ladder Ranch is like “a halfway house for wolves that are coming out of captive breeding facilities,” said Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center. “It plays an important role in the reintroduction program going forward.”
“We go out of our way to minimize human contact and increase the odds (the wolves) are well suited to survive in the wild without conflicts,” Phillips said.
Also on the agenda Thursday: The Game and Fish Department will present its final “wildlife action plan” for approval by the commission. That plan, required by the federal government and updated every five years, ranks the Mexican wolf as a “tier 1” species requiring the “most urgent” conservation measures.
Additionally, the commission is slated to discuss in closed executive session whether to join a lawsuit by the state of Arizona against Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell over Fish and Wildlife’s failure to develop a long-term recovery plan for the Mexican wolf — one of the reasons the commission has cited for its opposition to the reintroduction program.
The current 1982 recovery plan is widely viewed by both wolf advocates and opponents of the reintroduction program as outdated and insufficient to guide management of the wolf population. Fish and Wildlife says it is reconvening a team and a new recovery plan is expected in 2017.
At last count, there were 110 Mexican wolves in the wild across New Mexico and Arizona, according to Fish and Wildlife. The wolves in the wild, whose genetics derive from just seven surviving animals, suffer from inbreeding and advocates say release of new wolves is critical to inject diversity into the gene pool.
WHAT: NM Game Commission meeting in Roswell
WHERE: New Mexico Military Institute, Pearson Auditorium, 101 West College Blvd.
WHEN: Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This article 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 this article and make sure to reference the article 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.
- Keep your letter brief, no more than 200 words. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.
- Include something about who you are and why you care: E.g. “I am a mother, outdoors person, teacher, business owner, scientific, religious, etc.” Don’t be afraid to be personal and creative.
- 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.