On June 9, the New Mexico Game and Fish Commission voted to end the state’s participation in the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program. That program is the federal government’s attempt to restore wolves to an area straddling Arizona and New Mexico.
In the 1980s, the federal government set the goal of establishing a minimum population of 100 wolves within their historic range. It was anticipated that the canines would reach that number in 2006. Currently, there are just 50 wolves.
New Mexico’s abandonment of Mexican wolves was not a surprise given last
year’s election of Gov. Susana Martinez, the Republican who replaced
Democrat Bill Richardson. Since she took office, she has made appointments
to several state commissions that helped consolidate power in the hands of
industry and anti-regulation representatives. Her administration has also
directed the reorganization of the state’s Environment Department, choking
off some of its best programs. As for the New Mexico Game and Fish
Commission, four of its seven members are her new appointees; one also
serves as a board member of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association.
When bullies speak, Gov. Martinez listens. Just prior to the Game
Commission’s vote on wolves, for instance, anti-wolf activists as well as
the Catron County Commissioners sent letters to the state wildlife
commission and Gov. Martinez accusing wolves of putting their children and
ranching livelihoods at risk. The critics went to far as to distribute a
disturbing photo of a child in a wood and wire cage – a cage that was
designed to keep him safe from wolves while waiting for the school bus.
If the recent vote to withdraw support for wolves was no surprise, it
remains a serious blow. Somewhat surprisingly, the state’s wildlife
department had become an effective advocate for wolf recovery. In 2008 and
2009, it opposed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plans to remove wolves
suspected of preying on livestock. Thanks to that stance, the federal agency
changed its policy, and those two wolf packs still live in the wild where
they have not been preying on livestock.
Now that the state wildlife commission is no longer a partner in the federal
wolf recovery program, the department’s role has become murky. The state
will apparently refuse any federal money to fund employees to work on the
program, and the state’s representatives will no longer participate in the
recovery team. The details are still unclear.
But the wildlife department must continue to enforce state and federal
wildlife laws within New Mexico’s boundaries, and it must investigate wolf
shootings and killings as criminal cases. The department had applied for a
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant to pay 50 percent of the reimbursement
promised for livestock killed by wolves; department spokesman Lance Cherry
says the state is now exploring options on how to administer that grant
without using its own staff.
It seems clear that the commission’s decision to surrender to the bullies
was rash. But while Tom Buckley, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, calls the state’s decision “unfortunate,” he insists the wolf
recovery program will continue — albeit short-staffed.
However, Michael Robinson, a staffer with the nonprofit Center for
Biological Diversity, which has sought the return of Mexican wolves for
decades, worries that the government will resume its predator control
program and start removing “problem” wolves from the wild. It’s “not because
the biology has changed,” he says, “but because we have different elected
When public officials are so easily influenced, creating and managing a
sound policy becomes impossible. It’s equally unfortunate that scientists
employed by state and federal agencies lack the courage to publicly defend
their work and the species they are trying to recover. Until strong,
intelligent voices drown out the blowhards, emotions will rule, politicians
will call the shots and the public will be confused and frightened by rumor
This is cause for outrage, not apathy or despair. “It’s reasonable to be
pessimistic about wolf politics and management,” says Robinson. “It’s not
reasonable based on their biology.”
He’s right: Let’s not forget that the Southwest’s wolves survived many years
of strychnine poisoning and government bounties. Surely, they can survive
the bullies, too.
Laura Paskus is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). She is writer in Albuquerque.
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PLEASE WRITE A LETTER TO THE EDITOR TODAY.
In your letter, please thank the paper for this story, talk about the tremendous importance of Mexican wolves to the Southwest, point out that this decision does not reflect the will of the people in New Mexico, who overwhelmingly support the reintroduction program, and call on Governor Martinez and the NM Game Commission to reverse this harmful decision against a beautiful animal that has only around 50 members left in the wild.
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