U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials are walking a fine line as they try to come up with an updated Mexican wolf recovery plan.
On one side are the environmental activists who don’t think the agency is doing enough to save the endangered sub-species of the gray wolf.
On another side are hunters, farmers, ranchers and outfitters who oppose the releases of the wolves in their areas.
Socorro County resident Mary Katherine Ray would be among those concerned the agency isn’t doing enough.
She said she is troubled by the goal of having the animal removed from the endangered species list if 320 are living in the wild over an eight-year span. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials believe it will take 25-to-35 years to reach that goal.
“It does seem really, really low,” Ray said at the public meeting last Thursday in Truth or Consequences.
She is not alone with concerns.
“The delisting criteria in the recovery plan relies solely on the numbers of animals and does not contain any sort of genetic metrics to determine whether the population is healthy,” added Michael Dax, New Mexico Outreach representative for the Defenders of Wildlife organization. “It does contain the provision about 22 wolves released that have reached breeding age, but in the past we have seen wolves that have been prolific breeders and are genetically overrepresented in the wild population. The draft plan does nothing to account for this contingency, so as written it’s possible that we could have 320 very inbred wolves and that would be considered ‘recovery.’ ”
Sierra County Manager Bruce Swingle, who also serves as the chair of the Middle Rio Grande Valley Economic Development Association, voiced a concern about how a growing population of the wolves could affect the local economy.
“It is clear you are not wanting a good dialogue on an issue that is still in debate,” Swingle said of the format of the question-and-answer session at last week’s meeting.
Charles Martin, who has worked as a guide in the Gila, expressed a concern about the impact on the program on wildlife and on agriculture.
He said he has seen where wolves have mated with coyotes.
“I’ve seen baby elk get slaughtered,” Martin said. “I’ve seen cattle get slaughtered.”
Attacks on cattle have also been a concern of ranchers and farmers in Catron and Socorro counties.
Catron County Commissioner Anita Hand recently told The Chieftain there had been 14 confirmed investigations of wolf attacks on cattle in her county.
USDA wildlife official Mike Kelly told the Socorro County Board of Commissioners in April there had been confirmed wolf attacks on a bull and a cow in the county.
New Mexico Council of Outfitters and Guides Executive Director Kerry Romero expressed a concern that the plan didn’t address “what will happen if the prey population falls dramatically.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Field Projects Coordinator John Oakleaf said the agency is doing what it could to reduce attacks on livestock. He also said elk, deer and other wildlife populations are monitored.
He said it’s possible wolves could be removed from areas if their presence turns out to be harmful.
“We want to recover the wolf while having minimal impact (on ranchers, farmers, hunters and outfitters),” Oakleaf said.
Mexican Wolf Program Coordinator Sherry Barrett also said there were no documented cases of mating between the wolves and coyotes. She did say there were three cases where that had occurred with dogs, and said the pups were euthanized.
She said wolves were monitored through blood tests.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official Tracy Melbihess said if the Mexican gray wolf is removed from the endangered species list, control will be returned to the states and Native American tribes in the region.
That is a concern of environmental activists since the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish pulled out of the program in 2011.
“The draft plan gives the states authority over when and where releases of captive wolves occur,” Dax said. “Over the course of the program the states have continually hindered wolves’ recovery and currently, New Mexico is suing FWS to block the release of wolves. The plan acknowledges that additional releases are absolutely necessary to solve the wild population’s genetic crisis, so to give authority over those releases to the states considering their demonstrated history is seriously risking the prospects of recovery.”
Barrett and Melbihess, however, said state officials have collaborated with the agency about the plan.
They also said the plan is being driven by scientific research and not politics.
John Diamond voiced a concern about the cost of the program, which Barrett said runs about $2 million a year. He also wanted to know if federal wildlife officials considered the economic impact of the program, which he labeled a failure.
“We started with zero wolves in the wild in 1998,” Barrett said. “I do find that it is a success and obviously not a failure.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now seeking public input and peer review on the draft revised plan through a public comment period and series of public meetings. The comment period will remain open through August 29.
Show your support for Mexican wolves with a Letter to the Editor today!
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 for writing your letter 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.
Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required, by law, to incorporate the best available science into its Mexican gray wolf recovery plan. Unfortunately, they have scrapped this duty in order to attain the best political deal they could find. They have chosen to make hostile state agencies happy rather than uphold their duty to consider the best available science. The previous recovery planning science team clearly identified what these wolves need, yet those findings are being ignored.
• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to hand the management of the Mexican gray wolf recovery program to the states who have done everything in their power to sabotage the species’ recovery. Arizona game and fish ran the program for six years previously, and in that time they managed to reduce the number of wolves in the wild. The serious genetic problems the wild population is in is a direct result of the mismanagement by Arizona. If this plan is not dramatically changed, it will very likely drive the lobo to extinction.
• The Mexican gray wolf draft recovery plan includes reckless delisting criteria for the critically endangered wolf. The plan allows for delisting the wolf after twenty-two wolves released from captivity reach reproductive age. But just reaching reproductive age does not ensure their genes will be contributed to the wild population. We have seen that poaching is a major threat to individual wild wolves and if these wolves are killed before they breed, the species will still be removed from the endangered species list.
• Mexican gray wolves will need connectivity between wild populations in order to recover. Connectivity would be easy were they allowed to establish in the two additional suitable habitats in the U.S., the Grand Canyon area and the Southern Rockies. Instead, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to restrict the wolves to south of Interstate 40 and to establish a second population in Mexico. There is a barrier along large sections of the international border, talk of extending that barrier to an impenetrable wall, and the last wolf who crossed that border was removed from the wild.
• The federal agency charged with recovery of the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf has decided to put the onus of recovery on Mexico, despite the fact that this could wipe the species out. Mexico does not have nearly as much public land for the wolf, they have very little enforcement to deal with poaching, and as species shift north in response to climate change Mexican habitat will become even less suitable for wolves.
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, under 250 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.”
• 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.
DO EVEN MORE FOR LOBOS!
Submit comments to the Fish and Wildlife Service before August 29
Hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to:
Public Comments Processing
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC
5275 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041-3803
Additional Documentation Referenced in Draft Plan: