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Editorial: Wolf recovery plan based on reason, compromise

Albuquerque Journal - December 28, 2017

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It’s doubtful that people with extreme views on either side of the Mexican gray wolf recovery plan will be satisfied, but a decision earlier this month by the state Game Commission to approve the new federal wolf recovery plan strikes a blow for reason and compromise.

The state in recent years, with the support of ranchers and over the objections of some environmental and wildlife groups, has been locked in a legal struggle seeking to block expanded recovery efforts put forward by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There were some good reasons for that resistance to a laudable goal, including that the federal government kept moving the goalposts as to what constituted recovery, expanding the territory needed to accomplish it and essentially telling rural New Mexicans they needed to cheerfully go along even if they had concerns about livestock predation and in some cases personal safety.

The state went to court last year seeking to block the release of five additional wolves in New Mexico, and that litigation is still pending. Meanwhile, Defenders of Wildlife and others sued U.S. Fish and Wildlife asking that the court order the federal agency to create a new recovery plan – because the old plan hadn’t been formally updated since 1982.

But during a meeting last week, the logjam may have been broken.
The state Game Commission approved the new U.S. Fish and Wildlife wolf recovery plan, which includes measurable recovery criteria, biological and legal considerations.

“Key to our support is that consideration of the historical range of the Mexican wolf is taken into account, recognizing that approximately 90 percent of the subspecies’ historical habitat exists in Mexico,” the commission said.

That’s an important point, and one that is grounded in law, even though some environmental groups have tried to argue it should not apply – effectively placing the entire analysis and burden on people living on this side of the border.

The state commission last week also approved Fish and Wildlife permits to allow the cross-fostering of up to 12 pups in New Mexico in 2018 and for some pups to be moved into captivity in New Mexico from Arizona to promote genetic diversity of the wolf.

Bryan Bird, director of the Southwest Program for Defenders of Wildlife, called the developments encouraging and said they would “assist us in moving cooperatively forward with the state of New Mexico.”

Recovery of the Mexican gray wolf is a worthwhile endeavor with strong public support. But people matter, too, and the state Department of Game and Fish has worked to represent them.

The new plan reflects compromise and science, and the hope of a new relationship that values both ranchers and wolves.

This article was published in the Albuquerque Journal

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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 state of New Mexico should not be applauded for blocking the recovery of a critically endangered species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should instead be encouraged on the occasions they follow the recommendations of scientists, not accused of moving the goal posts of recovery.
  • 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.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should include family groups in their release plan. Recovery won't succeed unless they use all tools available to them, including the proven method of releasing family groups that include adult wolves.
  • Cross fostering is one tool for improving the wild population’s genetic health, but it’s not enough.  Many more wolves should be released this year from the hundreds in captive breeding programs.  Rather than relying solely on cross-fostering, the Service should also release adults and families of wolves from captivity.
  • 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 restricting the wolves to south of Interstate 40 and planning for no natural connectivity with the 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 wild population of Mexican wolves is at tremendous risk due to its small size and genetics.  There are hundreds of wolves in the captive breeding program whose genes are not represented in the wild population.
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 350 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.

Submit your letter to the editor of the Albuquerque Journal