SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Environmentalists on Tuesday accused federal wildlife managers of keeping secret some of the details behind decisions that led to the capture of a female Mexican gray wolf whose pack was blamed for several cattle killings in southwestern New Mexico.
The criticism comes after a public records request by WildEarth Guardians netted hundreds of pages of blacked-out documents.
Nearly 80 percent of the 870 pages released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services were redacted, said Wendy Keefover, director of the group's carnivore protection program.
"It looks like this is a national security threat and they have to hide these records," Keefover said, referring to the stack of black pages. "This is public information, but the federal government simply won't account for the loba's incarceration."
Wildlife Services did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment, but the agency noted in a letter to the environmental group that some of the information requested was exempt under the Freedom of Information Act because it included employee opinions and recommendations and other draft documents.
WildEarth Guardians is planning to appeal and is calling for a congressional investigation of the agency's handling of the records request.
WildEarth Guardians requested the documents in August after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ordered the capture of the pack's alpha female. An initial order to have the wolf shot was withdrawn after it sparked public outcry.
The pack has been blamed for six cattle kills, including four that happened outside the wolf recovery boundaries within a four-month period.
WildEarth Guardians had sought to review necropsy results from the cattle deaths along with photographs and other documentation to determine whether the wolves were in fact the culprits.
Carter Niemeyer, a Wildlife Services retiree and the former wolf recovery coordinator for Idaho, reviewed some of the documents. He questioned whether the cause of death in some cases could be accurately determined given that the cow carcasses were decomposed.
Niemeyer said the government should be conducting each investigation with "total clarity" given the controversy surrounding efforts to reintroduce the Mexican gray wolf in the American Southwest.
"I don't think it is unreasonable to provide irrefutable evidence in a form that the public can visualize and understand since these kinds of investigations will always be challenged now and in the future," he said.
WildEarth Guardians has also requested related documents from the Fish and Wildlife Service, but that agency has yet to respond.
A subspecies of the gray wolf, the Mexican wolf was added to the endangered species list in 1976. A captive-breeding program was started and the first batch of wolves was released into the wild in 1998.
Efforts to re-establish the predators in the Southwest have stumbled due to legal battles, illegal shootings and other problems. A survey done at the beginning of the year showed there were at least such 58 wolves in the wild along the New Mexico-Arizona border.
This AP article appeared in several papers. Please submit letters to the editor of these papers:
PLEASE WRITE LETTERS TO THE EDITOR THANKING THEM FOR THIS IMPORTANT STORY AND CALLING FOR FULL GOVERNMENT DISCLOSURE ABOUT THE EVENTS RESULTING IN THE FOX MOUNTAIN MOTHER WOLF’S INCARCERATION.
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 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tips for writing your letter are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience.
Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
Below are a few suggestions for ensuring your message gets through clearly-your letter will be most effective if you focus on a few key points, so don’t try to use all of these. If you need additional help or want someone to review your letter before you send it, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Start by thanking paper for publishing this article. This makes your letter immediately relevant and increases its chances of being published.
Support WildEarth Guardians’ in calling for a congressional investigation of the agency's handling of the records request. Thousands of people contacted the Fish and Wildlife Service on behalf of the Fox Mountain alpha female and her family. The public has a right to know exactly what was behind the permanent removal of this mother wolf from her pups and mate.
Protest the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s removal of this wolf. Wolves are social animals who rely on family members in hunting and pup rearing. By removing this wolf, the USFWS is depriving four pups born this summer of their mother, harming this family of wolves, and breaking apart one of only a few breeding pairs in the wild. Now it appears that the evidence used to support this terrible action is highly questionable.
Remind them that, at last count, just 58 wolves, including six breeding pairs, survived in the wild. This is no time to bring back the policy of scapegoating wolves who occasionally prey on livestock.
Assert that the way to improve the wild populations’ genetics is to release many new wolves into the wild, so that when the Fox Mountain pups, when they grow up, will be able to find unrelated mates. Explain that the USFWS used the Fox Mountain alpha wolves’ genetics as an excuse for removing the female, and point out that the reason these pups’ parents are so closely related may be due to the fact that not a single new wolf has been released from the captive-breeding pool since November 2008. The wild population is extremely small and vulnerable to threats such as disease, inbreeding, or natural events. The USFWS should end the freeze on new releases of captive wolves into the wild
Convey how important new releases of wolves into the wild are to increase the population’s numbers and genetic health, especially now.
Tell readers why you support wolves and stress that the majority of New Mexico and Arizona voters support the Mexican wolf reintroduction. Polling showed 69% support in New Mexico and 77% support in Arizona.
Talk about your personal connection to wolves and why the issue is important to you. If you’re a grandmother wanting your grandchildren to have the opportunity to hear wolves in the wild, or a hunter who recognizes that wolves make game herds healthier, or a businessperson who knows that wolves have brought millions in ecotourism dollars to Yellowstone, say so.
Describe the ecological benefits of wolves to entire ecosystems and all wildlife. Wildlife biologists believe that Mexican wolves will improve the overall health of the Southwest and its rivers and streams – just as the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone has helped restore balance to its lands and waters.
Keep your letter brief, between 150-300 words.
Provide your name, address, occupation, and phone number; your full address, occupation, and phone number will not be published, but they are required in order to have your letter published.