As the State Game Commission voted 7-0 Thursday morning to deny a permit renewal for Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch to continue importing and housing Mexican gray wolves bred in captivity, dozens of conservationists silently raised yellow signs reading “more wolves, less politics.”
The Southern New Mexico ranch has held permits for 17 years to house the endangered wolves, but its current permit will expire at the end of the year. In an effort to continue its conservation work, the ranch proposed a new permit, but state Game and Fish Department Director Alexa Sandoval denied it in 2015, citing a lack of a revised federal management plan for the wolves in the state. The ranch appealed to the seven-member commission.
“We can see this as the end, or the beginning of the end,” Commission Chairman Paul M. Kienzle said of the decision to reject the ranch’s appeal. “But this does not have to be the last time we visit this subject.”
The question of whether and how Mexican gray wolves should be reintroduced to the state has been a hotly contested issue. Advocates say new wolf releases are essential to diversifying the gene pool and to keeping the packs strong, while ranchers decry the wolves, saying they pose a threat to livestock.
About 90 people flooded the State Game Commission meeting room at Santa Fe Community College, most in support of the wolves. Prior to the meeting, at least 40 advocates rallied energetically outside the building in support of wolf conservation efforts.
“This is the most endangered mammal in North America, and nothing has changed in 25 years,” Sam Hitt, the founder of WildEarth Guardians, said during the rally. “It’s tragic.”
Prior the vote, Game Commissioner Elizabeth Ryan said the ability to overturn Sandoval’s decision on the permit fell outside the board’s authority. She said the Turner Endangered Species Fund, which manages the Ladder Ranch, would have had to have shown evidence during the appeal process that the Game and Fish director’s decision was “arbitrary or capricious,” or unlawful.
“She made a reasonable decision based on concerns and information provided to her,” Ryan said. “Our analysis is limited to that kind of discussion.”
She said the Turner Endangered Species Fund could submit a new proposal and permit request this year.
Commissioner Bob Ricklefs encouraged the group to work with the Game and Fish Department and “push [a new proposal] forward.”
“We all agree wolves are here to stay here in New Mexico — we are not against wolves. We want to manage them,” Commissioner Robert Espinoza told the crowd members, many of whom erupted in sardonic laughter.
“You can laugh,” he said. “But that is a true fact.”
Sandoval said after the ruling Thursday that she still believes a federal management plan will be a crucial tool for moving forward with the wolf reintroduction program in the state. Without a revised plan, she said, “we are driving with blinders on.”
A new federal plan for the species is expected in 2017. Sandoval said a team convened in Arizona two weeks ago to reignite the process, which includes assessing new scientific knowledge of the wolves and working with Mexico.
Mike Phillips, executive director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, said he was motivated by the board’s decision and believes he will be able to reach a compromise with the Game and Fish Department.
He said he will submit a new proposal within the next few weeks for a permit allowing adult wolves to be sent to the Ladder Ranch, not for reintroduction but for breeding. Phillips believes a plan to integrate captive pups, under 2 months old, into wild litters would be a more successful way to build the packs and also would be in line with the commission’s suggestions.
“They gave me clear instructions, and I understand what to do,” he said. “I have faith.”
Michael Dax, however, a representative of Defenders of Wildlife, said the commission’s decision was disappointing.
“It sounds like there will be some path forward,” he said, but said he feared the commissioners’ words were disingenuous. “They [say they] want to see the wolf recover, but they haven’t taken any positive steps.”
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approving Turner Ranch’s permit renewal.
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- The actions of the New Mexico Game Commission in denying these permits are petty and violate the public trust. Governor Martinez needs to make this right by getting the Ladder ranch and USFWS permits granted.
- For 17 years, Ladder Ranch has been an excellent partner in the effort to pull Mexican wolves back from the brink of extinction. US Fish and Wildlife Service must be able to release wolves into New Mexico to improve the dwindling genetic health of the wild population. New Mexico Game Commission has given no good reasons for denying the Ladder Ranch or USFWS permits because it has none-only a desire to block the recovery of these native wolves. These decisions should be reversed.
- At last official count, only 110 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 and USFWS permits will only further complicate efforts to recover these rare wolves.
- The New Mexico Game Commission, under Governor Martinez, 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.
- 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, Martinez's 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 charge and their public trust responsibility.
- Governor Martinez and her Game Commission should not be interfering with the rights of a responsible landowner to use his private land to aid wolf recovery.
Make sure you:
- Thank the paper for publishing this article.
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- 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.
- Submit your letter to the Santa Fe New Mexican here.
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 permits to Ladder Ranch and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and rescind the rule giving the Commission this authority.
Calls are most effective: 505-476-2200
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