Several Democratic lawmakers in New Mexico say the federal government’s proposed approach to managing the recovery of the Mexican gray wolf population, which the state government has signed off on, is a “flawed, politically driven” plan that will shortchange the species and could lead to extinction.
In an Aug. 29 letter to Amy Lueders, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the Southwest region, the lawmakers said the draft recovery plan could be fatal for the wolves.
The plan, they wrote, “is critically flawed and does not represent the best scientific and commercial data available.”
The 21 Democrats opposing the wolf recovery plan include nine state senators and representatives from Albuquerque and the surrounding area, seven lawmakers from the Las Cruces area and five from the Santa Fe area: Sens. Peter Wirth, Nancy Rodriguez and Liz Stefanics, and Reps. Linda Trujillo and Matthew McQueen.
Released in late June, the proposed wolf management plan has faced mounting opposition.
The lawmakers’ letter comes a week after the federal government closed the docket for public comment. More than 9,000 online comments were submitted, along with thousands more by mail, many in agreement with the Democratic lawmakers that the plan will do more to suppress than grow the species’ population.
Critics of the draft management plan, which has a court-ordered deadline of November, say additional markers are needed to ensure genetic diversity among the wolf population in New Mexico and Arizona.
The state lawmakers, in their letter to Lueders, call for numbers of the species to be raised much higher — closer to 750 wolves rather than 380, as outlined in the plan — before wolves can be removed from the wild or relocated to Mexico. And they say the range in which the wolves can be released should be expanded. The draft plan only allows releases south of Interstate 40.
At last count, there were 113 Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and Arizona and little genetic diversity among them.
Those who live closest to wolf release sites in New Mexico, near the Gila Wilderness, say the wolves are predatory and threaten valuable livestock. Some say the right number of wolves in the wild is zero.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, the state Department of Game and Fish and the State Game Commission have voiced support for more conservative reintroduction efforts and restraint.
The State Game Commission gave its approval of the draft management plan, as it is, last month.
But wolf advocates argue the draft plan cedes too much power to the interests of the ranching community and Republicans, rather than basing management strategies on the latest scientific data.
Under the Obama administration, the state and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were entangled in litigation over which agency had the authority to allow or prohibit wolf releases. The state sought to prevent releases on the basis that an updated management plan for the wolves did not exist. The federal government said it had the authority to supersede the state under the Endangered Species Act.
A federal district court initially blocked the Fish and Wildlife Service from releasing captive-born wolves into the wild in the state, but an appeals court reversed the decision and said the releases could continue.