In the News: Game & Fish denies Ted Turner ranch new wolf permit
New Mexico’s Game and Fish Commission has denied for the first time a permit that had been in place for 17 years that allowed Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch in the Gila mountains to aid the federal Mexican wolf recovery program.
The ranch has provided pen space for wolves being released into, or temporarily removed from, the wild by the federal government ever since the program to reintroduce the endangered Mexican wolf began in 1998.
The commission denied Turner’s permit renewal request on Thursday, a decision that surprised the Turner team and is being viewed by some as a move by the governor-appointed commission to curb reintroduction of the endangered Mexican gray wolf in New Mexico.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the wolf reintroduction program, said in a statement that the Turner ranch has been “an excellent partner in the recovery of Mexican wolves” and said it is “disappointed” in the commission’s decision.
Calls to the Department of Game and Fish on Friday seeking additional comment on why the permit was denied were not returned.
The program has faced stiff opposition from cattle ranchers who see the wolves as a threat to their livestock and livelihood. Turner’s ranch is a different animal, however.
One of several sprawling Western ranches owned by the media mogul, Turner raises bison, and also maintains the land as a habitat for endangered and threatened species, and for ecotourism. The more than 156,000-acre Ladder Ranch is located in Sierra County and includes pine forest in the foothills of the Gila National Forest, the site of the wolf reintroduction program.
“I hold the authority of the Game Commission in high regard,” said Mike Phillips, director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund. “They made a curious decision to say no to a long-standing program with no problems. I wish they had acted differently.”
The Commission “had no problems with the way the ranch has been run for 17 years,” he said. “They are opposed to the Mexican wolf recovery program as currently constituted.”
Phillips spoke at Thursday’s commission meeting – the first time the Turner team has had to request a permit of the seven-member commission. Previously, the ranch’s permit had been renewed by the Game and Fish department director.
That changed last year when, in November, the commission established a new, specific rule requiring commission approval for any mammalian carnivore “held, possessed or released on private property for the purpose of recovery, re-introduction, conditioning, establishment or reestablishing in New Mexico,” according to the meeting minutes.
Public comment at that meeting centered almost exclusively on how the rule would impact the Mexican gray wolf recovery program.
There were 109 Mexican gray wolves in the wild at last count, according to the 2014 census by FWS.
The population is both fragile and highly managed. The FWS frequently traps wolves that pose problems for ranchers, pulls them from the wild temporarily and keeps them in large pens at the Turner ranch or at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. The pens are also used as way stations for wolves bred in captivity that are poised to be released into the wild for the first time.
“They took out of play a good number of pens that stand as an active place to address problems in the field,” including depredation of livestock, Phillips said. “Five pens are now sitting idle in a federally approved recovery program that is characterized by a lack of cage space.”
In its statement, the FWS said that “partnerships between private land owners and federal agencies are essential to wildlife management and endangered species recovery,” and the commission’s decision “may hamstring species recovery.”
“It reduces the FWS managerial flexibility,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation group. “The statement is ‘we’re against Mexican wolf recovery and we’re going to set up obstacles.’ ”
This article was published in the Albuquerque Journal.
Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
- For 17 years, Ladder Ranch has been an excellent partner in the effort to pull Mexican wolves back from the brink of extinction. New Mexico Game Commission has given no good reason for denial of the permit because it has none-only a desire to block the recovery of these native wolves.
- At last official count, only 109 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 New Mexico Game Commission 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.
- Scientists believe that Mexican wolves will improve the overall health of the Southwest and its rivers and streams – just as the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone has helped restore balance to its lands and waters.
- Mexican gray wolves are unique native animals. They are the rarest, most genetically distinct subspecies of gray wolf in North America and the most endangered wolf in the world. State and federal agencies should do all in their power to move these special wolves away from extinction towards recovery. Instead, the NM 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 livestock industry has a responsibility to share public lands with wolves and other wildlife. Wolves are responsible for less than 1% of livestock losses and there are many tried and true methods to avoid conflicts between livestock and wolves. Responsible managers and livestock owners emphasize conflict avoidance instead of scapegoating wolves.
- The federal government nearly drove the Mexican gray wolf to extinction in the 1900’s. We have a moral responsibility to do all we can to ensure these wolves do not go extinct and NM Game Commission is ignoring that sacred responsibility.
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