By Michael J. Dax
It seems to be the pattern every 10 years or so: The so-called Sagebrush Rebellion rears its head again, with states’ rights proponents calling for the sale of our public lands, decreased federal management of wildlife and forests, and more power in the hands of the states. And it is happening again today.
For Mexican gray wolves, the most endangered gray wolf on the planet, the rebellion’s latest antics have manifested in the form of the Mexican Wolf Transparency and Accountability Act — a bill co-sponsored by Steve Pearce, R-N.M., and Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., that would remove federal protection under the Endangered Species Act from the lobo and put its management solely in the hands of the states. While proponents have claimed that wolves would be better managed by New Mexico and Arizona, the reality is this move could lead to their extinction.
Case in point: Last month, the State Game Commission denied the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s appeal to release Mexican gray wolves into areas in New Mexico that scientists have identified as suitable habitat for lobos. Early this year, this same commission also denied a permit for Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch — a private property — to voluntarily contribute to recovery by holding wolves in its pre-release facility.
In Arizona, the Game and Fish Commission voted to ban releases of all adult wolves in the state. With just more than 100 animals in the wild — all descended from just seven founders — the genetic health of the population is severely at risk. In other words, this single wild population is dependent on the release of genetically valuable, captive-bred wolves to increase its chances for survival. Without ample new releases soon, Mexican gray wolves cannot recover.
Our leaders in Congress had the foresight and magnanimity 40 years ago to pass landmark legislation like the Endangered Species, Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, so the federal government has the tools to protect our wildlife and precious natural resources. In the case of wildlife, species fall under the purview of the Fish and Wildlife Service only after state management has left them on the brink of extinction.
Locally crafted solutions are fantastic goals, and the better we can promote these kinds of approaches to difficult natural resource problems, the better the environmental community will be in the long term. But when faced with the choice between local control that may not get the job done for financial, political, ideological or other reasons, and sustainably well-managed forests, rivers and wildlife populations, we must first and foremost do right by the wildlife and natural resources that know nothing of our political squabbles.
This month, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it will release more wolves using its authority granted by federal law, despite the state’s denial of its permit. With this announcement, the Fish and Wildlife Service added that it prefers to work with states when recovering endangered species, and although partnering with state and local agencies is indeed a worthwhile goal, it should in no way trump the legal and moral responsibility the Fish and Wildlife Service has under federal law to take the actions necessary to recover wolves. Advocates of states’ rights want to make the issue one of principle, but if principle is what’s at stake, the moral responsibility we have to protect our native plants and animals is far more urgent than the means by which we do it.
Michael J. Dax is New Mexico outreach representative for the Defenders of Wildlife. He is based in Santa Fe.
This “Reader View” was published in the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Please take a stand for Mexican wolf recovery with a letter to the editor!
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. 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.
Tips and talking points for writing your letter are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience.
Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
- The states of Arizona and New Mexico are hostile to Mexican wolf recovery and cannot be trusted with the future of these highly endangered animals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a legal and moral obligation to follow the best available science and do what is needed to recover endangered Mexican gray wolves in spite of politically motivated state opposition.
- In denying permits to release Mexican gray wolves, New Mexico Game and Fish sought to undermine state and federal law. New Mexico law requires the state to recover endangered species, including the wolves, which are listed at the state and the federal level as an endangered species.
- New Mexico and Arizona polling shows that the vast majority of voters in both states support the Mexican wolf reintroduction. Instead of trying to undermine wolf recovery, the NM Game and Fish Department should be working to help these endangered native wolves thrive.
- The wild population of Mexican wolves is at tremendous risk due to its small size and genetics. The U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service should release many more wolves as soon as possible from the hundreds in captive breeding programs, and the State Agencies should not be allowed to stand in the way.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made a responsible decision not to let the New Mexico Game Commission put the wolves’ future at risk, and the Service should move forward quickly with new wolf releases, desperately needed to improve the wild wolves’ genetic health.
- A system that does not result in qualified biologists on the Game and Fish Commission is a system that is not working in the best interests of the state’s wildlife and people.
- New Mexico needs a wildlife agency that honors and fulfills its public trust obligations by representing the best interests of all of the state’s wildlife, including keystone carnivores like wolves.
- The New Mexico Game Commission is heavily biased against non-game species, especially important carnivores like wolves. This needs to change.
- Peer reviewed science by top wolf experts says that Mexican wolves need four things to recover: they need two new populations north of Interstate 40 and the ability to travel between the three populations; they need genetic rescue, which requires expedited releases from the captive population; human caused mortality must decrease; and there must be an absolute minimum of 750 wolves in the wild. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should move forward with all of these things now.
General talking points about the importance of wolves.
Make sure you:
- Wolves are an essential part of the balance of nature. They keep elk and deer herds healthy by ensuring the most fit animals survive.
- Mexican gray wolves are beautiful, intelligent, family oriented animals who were persecuted and nearly exterminated by the government. Our state and federal government should do everything in its power to ensure these native animals do not go extinct in the wild again.
- Wolves are responsible for less than 1% of livestock losses. Most livestock losses are due to disease, accidents, and bad weather. The livestock industry has a responsibility to share public lands with wolves and other wildlife by using coexistence methods to avoid conflicts between livestock and wolves.
- Wolves are part of God’s creation. We have a responsibility to take care of them.
Make sure you:
- Thank the paper for publishing the REader View.
- 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, such as “so and so says 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, between 150-250 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.
- Submit your letter to the Santa Fe New Mexican here.
THANK YOU FOR ACTING TO ENSURE THE FUTURE OF THESE SPECIAL WOLVES!