By Ray Powell, New Mexico Land Commissioner
Wolves have captivated my interest as a scientist and policy maker for more than 30 years and I strongly support their reintroduction into the wild. Working up close with captive wolves as a veterinary student, I grew to marvel at their intelligence and complex social structure.
Science now tells us that wolves play an important role in maintaining the health of ecosystems. And all creatures, including humans, need healthy ecosystems to survive and thrive.
During my recent election campaign, the federal wolf recovery effort in New Mexico was a flashpoint, with strong feelings on all sides. The debate over the future of wolves in many ways mirrors the larger challenges I face as the steward of New Mexico’s 13 million acres of state trust lands.
As Land Commissioner, it’s my job to balance the many uses of state lands to generate jobs and pay for public schools and higher education. At the same time, it’s also my duty to protect the long-term health of the land and habitat for New Mexico’s diverse plants and wildlife.
For most New Mexicans who enjoy the outdoors, our public land and water is the only natural “estate” we will ever own. Whether you like to hunt, fish, bird watch or spend time hiking and camping with friends and family, our public lands are a big part of what makes New Mexico such a special place to live.
And that’s where wolves come in. Nature gave wolves the job of keeping elk and deer herds healthy by ensuring only the fittest animals survive.
Wolves can also help keep coyote populations in check in a more natural way. A recent scientific study demonstrated that in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, pronghorn fawn survival was four times higher in areas with wolves, than in areas without wolves. Science often yields surprising answers.
In short, wolves are an essential part of the balance of nature and when they are fully restored they will help keep our lands healthy, productive, and beautiful.
New Mexico also has a long and important tradition of farming and ranching and there has been some depredation of domestic animals in the areas of re-introduction. This has caused conflict between wolves and ranchers over the years since wolves were first re-introduced in 1998. There have also been programs designed to compensate for losses, although it has been disputed whether they adequately considered the full value of loss.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and their state agency and private partners have been working with the local agricultural community to manage conflicts in creative ways that protect livestock and keep wolves in the wild. A respectful and collaborative partnership between all parties interested in and affected by the wolf is the foundation to the long-term survival of the wolf.
After declining over the previous six years, the number of Mexican wolves in the wild increased in the last year to 50. That’s great news, although still far short of full recovery for our native Southwestern gray wolf.
The remarkable ongoing recovery of our nation’s most critically endangered gray wolf, the lobo, the revered mascot for the University of New Mexico, is made possible by the Endanger-ed Species Act (ESA) passed 38 years ago during the Nixon Administration. Mexican gray wolves have been protected because they were placed on the official list of endangered species in 1976 when they were teetering on the very brink of extinction.
The ESA rightly requires that adding and removing species from the list must be based on the best scientific information available. In passing the ESA, Congress recognized that science, not politics, should determine how endangered species and the habitats they depend on are managed and restored.
But legislation now before Congress would remove all gray wolves from the protection of the ESA, including our Southwestern lobo. With just 50 wolves left in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona, the Mexican Gray Wolf remains one of the most imperiled animals in North America. Now is not the time to play politics and remove the safety net of the Endangered Species Act for our lobos.
Now is the time to work together to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to hear the beautiful and haunting call of the wild wolf.
Making a place for wolves in New Mexico is part of my vision for balanced management of our state trust lands.
The compassion of the human spirit shown by caring for the well-being of our fellow species will serve to keep the Land of Enchantment forever enchanted.
PLEASE SUBMIT A LETTER TO THE EDITOR of the Ruidoso News, thanking the paper and Ray Powell for this Op-ed and calling on Senators Bingaman and Udall to stop attempts to further endanger Mexican wolves through congressional legislation: firstname.lastname@example.org.