This summer the federal government plans to release Mexican gray wolf pups bred in captivity directly into New Mexico for the first time – part of what it says is an effort to encourage the endangered lobo’s recovery – if the state grants permission.
Wolves have been bred in captivity in New Mexico for years but then released in Arizona, where some eventually were captured for one of various reasons and then relocated to New Mexico.
But a new management rule that took effect in February permits the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to introduce “new” wolves, or those bred in captivity, directly into the New Mexico wild – a critical step, advocates say, toward improving the genetics of the population.
Wolf advocates say they are concerned about the fate of permit requests by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pending before the New Mexico Game and Fish Department to release new wolves. They say the department’s governor-appointed commission took a swipe at the recovery program last week when it denied Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch a permit to host wolves on its property in New Mexico. It had been doing so for 17 years.
Mike Phillips, director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, told the Journal last week that the Game and Fish Commission took no issue with how the Ladder Ranch has been run but expressed opposition to the federal wolf recovery program “as currently constituted.”
On Friday, dozens of wolf advocacy groups from California to New York signed a letter to Gov. Susana Martinez asking her to reverse that decision, which they say could complicate the federal government’s work in reintroducing wolves to their native landscape.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service historically has used large pens at the Ladder Ranch as way stations for Mexican wolves being introduced to, or pulled from, the wild ever since the reintroduction program began in 1998.
The commission’s denial of the Turner permit “takes away a tool” for wolf recovery, said Eva Sargent, director of the Southwest Program at Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group. “If the department were to start to deny permits to release wolves, that would imperil the program.”
The Game and Fish Department confirmed it is reviewing requests by the FWS to release into the Gila wilderness a pair of wolves and their pups, and to import and release up to 10 wolves into New Mexico. Department Director Alexa Sandoval is charged with making a determination.
Game and Fish told the Journal in an emailed response to questions that it is reviewing information and “there is not a set time frame for a response.”
The FWS told the Journal in an emailed response to questions that the permit requests to import and release up to 10 wolves “are for pups less than two weeks old that may be born at a captive facility elsewhere, and brought into the state to release into a wild den,” a practice known as cross-fostering.
There are 109 Mexican gray wolves in the wild, according to the FWS’ latest count.
Advocates say releases of new wolves into the wild is critical to the reintroduction program, due to the lack of genetic diversity in a population that was bred over the past four decades from just seven wolves.
Asked whether the FWS needs state approval to release wolves onto federal public land, the FWS said it has “federal statutory responsibility to recover Mexican wolves” but added, “We are most effective when partnering with the states.”
“Our desire is to work with the state toward the recovery of the Mexican wolf, which will eventually lead to state management of the species,” the FWS said.
New Mexico’s Game and Fish Department is funded in large part by $20 million in hunting, trapping and fishing licenses sold annually. Its mission is “to conserve wildlife and provide recreational opportunities that benefit everyone,” according to its website.
Laura Schneberger, a rancher in Sierra County and president of the Gila Livestock Growers Association, said she supported the Game and Fish Commission’s decision to deny the Turner permit, given how “the Fish and Wildlife Service has run roughshod over the state and the people who are dealing with the wolves.”
“That’s why the state is strong-arming them on this issue,” she said. “I don’t think that’s asking too much, especially considering the damage that is being done.”
Many ranchers in the state oppose the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program on grounds that wolves target their livestock.
The new wolf management rule expanded the territory where Mexican gray wolves can roam in New Mexico from south of I-40 to the Mexican border, and broadened where the FWS can introduce “new” wolves to include federal lands in New Mexico.
Please help endangered Mexican gray wolves with a letter to the editor today!
The New Mexico Game and Fish Commission and Governor Martinez will likely try to prevent these and any releases from occurring in New Mexico even though a poll in 2013 of New Mexico voters showed strong public support for wolf protection. Your letter to the editor is needed to influence the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stand strong and release these and other wolves from the captive breeding population in 2015.
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.
Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Make sure you:
- Thank the paper for publishing the article.
- 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 from the article, 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, between 150-300 words.
- 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.
Want to do more to help save Mexican wolves?
Tell Governor Martinez: Stop Taking Aim at Endangered Wolves
Contact the Governor’s office and request respectfully that she put an end to her Commission’s anti-carnivore state wildlife policies, grant the Mexican wolf permit to Ladder Ranch, and rescind the rule giving the Commission this authority.
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