SANTA FE, N.M. -- Wolf advocates are organizing their own hearing about changes to the federal government's Mexican wolf program after this week's government shutdown forced the cancellation of a planned Fish and Wildlife Service hearing tomorrow in Albuquerque, N.M.
The agency had planned tomorrow's hearing to gather public input on a controversial proposal to delist all gray wolves in the lower 48 states except the Mexican wolf population in the Southwest and to overhaul two key management provisions in the 15-year-old Mexican wolf reintroduction program.
The cancellation, however, hasn't stopped wolf advocates from going forward with plans to use the hearing as an opportunity to draw attention to their concerns with the proposal. They still plan to hold a "Save the Lobo" rally early Friday evening that will feature several speakers, including activist Dave Foreman, founder of Earth First! and the Rewilding Institute. And they've now added an "online citizens' hearing," where members of the public will be able to use laptops provided by environmental organizations to electronically submit comments about the proposal to FWS.
"People from all walks of life, urban and rural, young and old, want to testify in support of more protections for wolves -- not fewer," said Michael Robinson, a wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Though the government's canceling, the public will not be stopped from testifying."
The center and the other groups organizing the event, including Conservation Voters New Mexico, Defenders of Wildlife, the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council and the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, are pushing the agency to reverse its decision to delist all gray wolves except Mexican wolves as well as its proposal to tweak the way it manages the latter population.
In June, the service unveiled plans to lift two longtime restrictions on Mexican wolf propagation in Arizona and New Mexico in the immediate wake of the decision to formally drop gray wolf protections across most of the United States (Greenwire, June 7).
Under proposed revisions to the 1998 rule that established Mexican wolves as an experimental nonessential population at the time of their reintroduction to the Southwest, wolves in the two states would be allowed to roam beyond the Blue Range Recovery Area. The revisions would allow wolves to roam as far north as Interstate 40 -- an east-west artery that bisects Arizona and New Mexico -- and as far south as I-10, which parallels the U.S.-Mexico border. Previously, Mexican wolves that crossed that line had to be captured and returned to the official recovery area.
The revisions also would allow for Mexican wolves to be directly released into New Mexico, which is now prohibited -- except under certain circumstances -- due to objections by state officials when the reintroduction program began in 1998.
Wolf advocates say that while those changes are a step in the right direction, they still won't ensure recovery. Setting I-40 as the wolves' new boundary, for example, would prevent them from reaching suitable habitat in northern New Mexico and the Grand Canyon area in Arizona, which is key to establishing additional populations, Robinson said.
The Mexican wolf, the smallest gray wolf subspecies, once roamed across the Southwest and northern Mexico. About 75 Mexican wolves now inhabit the official recovery area in Arizona and New Mexico -- an increase from previous years but still not enough to meet recovery objectives.