Public comments on a pair of proposals by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would affect gray wolf recovery efforts nationwide ran about 2 to 1 in favor of expansion of the wolf recovery program, but cattle and sheep ranchers said the program is a failure and needs to be discontinued.
A near-capacity crowd of about 500 conservationists, ranchers, landowners and concerned citizens weighed in on the proposals during a three-hour public hearing here Wednesday at Embassy Suites. More than 100 of them signed up to make 2-minute comments on the proposals.
Gary Frazer, the agency’s assistant director for ecological services, opened the hearing saying the goal of the proposed changes is “securing the species from the threat of extinction.”
While those efforts have dramatically expanded the range of wolves in the Western Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountains, they are proving less effective on the Mexican wolf, he said.
Fish and Wildlife officials say reintroductions of the gray wolf in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho have been successful and they are no longer endangered. The agency estimates the number of gray wolves in the continental United States at more than 5,000.
Several speakers cautioned the agency to weigh its actions carefully, with particular attention to potential economic impacts on New Mexico.
Others, like state Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, urged agency officials to “make decisions based on science,” rather than political or any other basis. “Make that the hallmark of your decision-making,” he said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged with saving wolves from extinction, hopes to remove federal protection of gray wolves and to concentrate on the recovery on another wolf subspecies – the Mexican wolf.
Another proposal would revise a rule that classifies Mexican wolves as an “experimental population,” a designation that affects how the wolves are managed.
Conservation groups – which were well-represented at the public hearing – generally opposed removal of the gray wolf from the endangered species list and expressed concerns with other proposals affecting the Mexican wolf.
Las Cruces City Councilman Nathan Small said he thinks recovering the Mexican wolf would be beneficial to southern New Mexico, and that as an outdoorsman and hunter, he thinks the presence of wolves would enhance all outdoor experiences.
Saying wolves are “vital to the health of the ecosystems” in which they have historically lived, outdoor writer Ruth Rudner urged expansion of the lands they are allowed to roam and claimed wolves have “become the scapegoat for increasingly anti-everything politics.”
Barbara Bacon of Albuquerque said she was concerned that the proposed changes “are not going to promote full recovery of the Mexican gray wolf.”
She also said she supports expansion of the wolf recovery area as far south as the Mexican border because “wolves can’t read maps.”
Citing losses of livestock to wolf depredation, ranching groups – also well-represented at the hearing – strongly back federal efforts to remove gray wolves from the list of endangered species, even though they typically receive compensation from the federal government for livestock losses attributed to wolves.
Rex Wilson with the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association and Caren Cowan with the New Mexico Wool Growers Association said wolf reintroduction in New Mexico had failed and needs to be discontinued.
“There is ample scientific evidence for removing the gray and Mexican wolves from the endangered species list,” Wilson said.
“After 15 years, it is clear the experiment has failed,” he said, adding that there is not enough wildlife in New Mexico to justify restoring wolves here.
He and Cowan said they support taking not only the gray wolf from the endangered species list, but the Mexican wolf as well.
“This experiment has gone on too long,” Cowan said, adding that the program “is not working for anyone, especially them (the wolves).”
Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity expressed concerns about a lack of biological diversity among the existing wolf population in New Mexico and said it’s Fish and Wildlife’s fault for limiting their reintroductions.
The Mexican wolf was added to the federal endangered species list in 1976. Efforts to reintroduce them in the Southwest have stumbled due to legal battles, politics, illegal shootings and other problems. Since reintroduction efforts began in 1998, more than 50 illegal wolf killings have been documented.
The Mexican gray wolf recovery area includes 3.3 million acres in the Gila National Forest and 1.1 million acres in the Apache National Forest in Arizona. Tribal or private lands adjacent to those areas can also allow wolves on their lands, such as the Ted Turner-owned Ladder Ranch in New Mexico and the White Mountain Apache Tribe’s Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said there are about 75 Mexican gray wolves in the recovery area, and only three breeding pairs.
In August, the Center for Biological Diversity reached a settlement agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service that allows direct release of captive-bred wolves into the Gila National Forest and permits wolves to roam over a broader area than is currently allowed. The agreement requires Fish and Wildlife to finalize a rule authorizing those moves by Jan. 12, 2015.
The Center also objects to a proposal that would require removal of any Mexican gray wolf found north of Interstate 40 or south of Interstate 10, saying it would prevent the establishment of new, genetically diverse populations of wolves in the southern Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon ecosystem and in Mexico.
The public comment period for the proposed changes, originally set to expire on Sept. 11, has been extended through Dec. 17. For more information, go to www.fws.gov/home/wolfrecovery.
THIS IS GREAT NEWS, BUT WE'RE NOT DONE YET.
PLEASE TAKE ACTION FOR MEXICAN WOLVES!
You can help ensure the future of the lobo by attending the public hearing in Hon-Dah/Pinetop, by submitting comments to the Fish and Wildlife Service, and by writing a letter to the editor of the Albuquerque Journal.One letter from you can reach thousands of people and will also likely be read by decision-makers. Tips and talking points are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience. Don’t try to include all the talking points in your letter.
- While giving Mexican wolves their own Endangered Species Act listing is long overdue, delisting gray wolves throughout the U.S. is counter to protecting Mexican wolves. The proposed rule will leave gray wolves unprotected in places that scientists have said are needed for Mexican wolf recovery, making it more difficult to protect Mexican gray wolves even if they are allowed to expand into new areas.
- The USFWS should move forward with allowing new wolves to be released throughout the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. The Mexican gray wolf is the most endangered mammal in the U.S. with only about 75 in the wild. Additional wolves must be released into the wild now to increase the genetic health of the species. Numerous wolves are in captive breeding facilities around the country, prepared for, and awaiting, release.
- Wolves once lived throughout the west and played a critical role in keeping the balance of nature in place. We need to restore this important animal that has been missing for too long.
- Wolves need freedom from boundaries. Given room to roam, the wolves will establish themselves in suitable areas with adequate game. The USFWS proposal does not allow wolves to establish new packs and populations in additional areas that are essential to their recovery.
- Additional populations of Mexican wolves are necessary to their recovery and genetic health, as is the ability for wolves to move between populations.
- Capturing and moving wolves is always a risky business that can result in death or trauma to the wolf.
- The USFWS should designate Mexican gray wolves as essential. By labeling all of the wild wolves as “nonessential” the USFWS ignores science and the reality of 15 years of experience with reintroducing wolves.The 75 wolves in the wild have up to four generations of experience in establishing packs and raising pups and are over 22% of all of the Mexican wolves in the world.
- The USFWS needs to quit stalling and complete a comprehensive recovery plan at the same time as or before changing the current rule.
Make sure you:
- The likelihood of a person being hurt by a wolf is almost non-existent. In rural areas, people are far more likely to be harmed by things accepted as part of daily life, such as domestic dogs, livestock, or off-road vehicles. Mexican wolves are small, weighing 50-85 pounds, and tend to avoid people.
- Thank the paper for publishing this article.
- Include something about who you are and why you care: E.g. “I am mother, outdoors person, teacher, business owner, scientific, religious, etc.)
- Provide your name, phone number and address. The paper won’t publish these, but they want to know you are who you say you are.
- Submit your letter to the Editor of the Albuquerque Journal here.
Thank you for speaking out to save Mexican wolves!
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Photo credit: ErinMcCraken, MeskerZoo