Editorial: Our View: Releasing wolves the right thing to do
By jumping through many hoops — first applying for a state permit and then appealing the permit’s denial — introduction of more genetically diverse wolves into the wilds of Southern New Mexico will have to wait. The window of opportunity to take captive wolves and set them free is gone for this year. But next year, according to a memo released last week, planned releases will happen even without the state permit. “It is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s obligation under the law to recover this species, and reintroductions into the wild from the more genetically diverse captive population are an essential part of the recovery process,” the memo stated.
Good for the federal government. Managing the well-being of wolves in the wild cannot be left to individual states. Wolves don’t recognize boundaries, either between states or countries. The range for Mexican gray wolves is some 5,000 square miles around the Apache and Gila national forests of eastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, with some dipping into Mexico. Bringing back wolf populations from near-extinction has to be overseen by a central agency, one dedicated to restoration of this essential animal rather than to catering to the wishes of local ranchers or hunters.
It’s understandable that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials followed what had been a noncontroversial procedure in the past, going to the state Department of Game and Fish and applying for wolf-release permits. But there should have been warnings that this path might not work.
Since Gov. Susana Martinez took office, her staffers have worked to obstruct support for wolves and other predators. The state still could sue to block the recent decision to release wolves, but that doesn’t mean such a lawsuit would prevail. The Endangered Species Act, which protects the wolves, will be a strong defense for federal agencies.
Years of cooperation on wolf recovery began breaking down in 2011, the year the governor took office. That’s when the state did not renew its agreement to cooperate with the feds on wolf recovery, an impasse that has continued. With so many Western states, especially, trying to block conservation efforts, we would hope federal agencies take note of what happened in New Mexico. They must act more aggressively when necessary to support species.
Wolf enthusiasts and nature lovers have to stay involved to block changes to laws that protect wolves and other creatures. Bad legislation, such as the Mexican Wolf Transparency and Accountability Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., and Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., would remove federal protection under the Endangered Species Act from the lobo and leave its management up to states. Such laws would be a recipe for extinction.
The excuse for denying wolf-release permits in New Mexico was a so-called lack of a federal wolf recovery plan. That’s just not true. There is a 2010 plan in place and a revision underway for 2017. There was no reason for New Mexico to disallow the release of wolves into the wild, especially when science clearly demonstrated the need for a more diverse population.
Biologists believe introducing genetic diversity into the still-small wolf packs will make the species stronger — currently, some 110 wolves have been counted in the New Mexico and Arizona wilds. The idea, back in April, was to release up to 10 gray wolf pups and place them with wild packs and release an adult mating pack. New Mexico, which had never denied such permits, would not budge.
It is clear that many people want wolves to die out. But the occasional loss of livestock is no reason to destroy one of God’s creatures. Nor is there a threat to humans from wolves; that’s just a scare story by people who want wolves to vanish. By moving ahead despite state opposition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is giving these wolves a new lease on life. And that’s as it should be.
This excellent editorial was published by the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Photo courtesy of Wolf Haven International
Letter Writing Talking Points & Tips
- In denying permits to release Mexican gray wolves, New Mexico Game and Fish sought to undermine state and federal law. New Mexico law requires the state to recover endangered species, including the wolves, which are listed at the state and the federal level as an endangered species.
- As the editorial stated, the only thing wrong with US Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to release wolves is that it came so late. Mexican gray wolves remain at the brink of extinction. They do not have time to wait while New Mexico Game and Fish plays politics with their survival.
- New Mexico and Arizona polling shows that the vast majority of voters in both states support the Mexican wolf reintroduction. Instead of trying to undermine wolf recovery, the NM Game and Fish Department should be working to help these endangered native wolves thrive.
- The wild population of Mexican wolves is at tremendous risk due to its small size and genetics. Many more wolves should be released as soon as possible from the hundreds in captive breeding programs, and Governor Martinez’s Game Commission should not be allowed to stand in the way.
- The US Fish and Wildlife Service made a responsible decision not to let the New Mexico Game Commission put the wolves’ future at risk, and the Service should move forward quickly with new wolf releases, desperately needed to improve the wild wolves’ genetic health.
- A system that does not result in qualified biologists on the Game and Fish Commission is a system that is not working in the best interests of the state’s wildlife and people.
- Commissioners should be selected on the basis of their experience and ability to make science based decisions that are good for all wildlife, especially endangered species. Instead, they are being appointed to serve Governor Martinez’s political agenda.
- New Mexico needs a wildlife agency that honors and fulfills its public trust obligations by representing the best interests of all of the state’s wildlife, including keystone carnivores like wolves.
- The New Mexico Game Commission is heavily biased against non-game species, especially important carnivores like wolves. This needs to change.
- Peer reviewed science by top wolf experts says that Mexican wolves need four things to recover: they need two new populations north of Interstate 40 and the ability to travel between the three populations; they need genetic rescue, which requires expedited releases from the captive population; human caused mortality must decrease; and there must be an absolute minimum of 750 wolves in the wild. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should move forward with all of these things now.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a legal and moral obligation to do follow the best available science and do what is needed to recover endangered Mexican gray wolves in spite of politically motivated state opposition.
- Wolves are an essential part of the balance of nature. They keep elk and deer herds healthy by ensuring the most fit animals survive.
- Mexican gray wolves are beautiful, intelligent, family oriented animals who were persecuted and nearly exterminated by the government. Our state and federal government should do everything in its power to ensure these native animals do not go extinct in the wild again.
- Wolves are responsible for less than 1% of livestock losses. Most livestock losses are due to disease, accidents, and bad weather. The livestock industry has a responsibility to share public lands with wolves and other wildlife by using coexistence methods to avoid conflicts between livestock and wolves.
- Wolves are part of God’s creation. We have a responsibility to take care of them.
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Unfortunately, federal agencies too-often bow to anti-wolf states and make decisions that are not in the best interest of Mexican gray wolf recovery. So in cases like this, where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to go forward with urgently needed releases in spite of state opposition, we want to give them lots of support and appreciation.
Please call or email Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe and thank them.
Secretary Sally Jewell: Phone: (202) 208-7351. Emails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Director Dan Ashe: Phone (202) 208-4717. Emails can be sent to email@example.com or http://www.fws.gov/duspit/contactus.htm
Talking points for your calls or emails:
- I want to thank Secretary Jewell and Director Ashe for embracing their mission to recover endangered Mexican gray wolves and thoughtfully making a science-driven decision to move forward with releases to improve the wild wolf population’s genetic health.
- I hope that the decision to refuse to allow states to prevent actions necessary for Mexican wolf recovery will also apply to Arizona.
- I want to encourage the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to continue to follow the best available science and be willing to adaptively manage to improve the lobos’ genetic health -- even if that requires more and faster releases than have originally been estimated.
- Thank you for doing the right thing for endangered Mexican gray wolves.