The Mexican gray wolf made the news once again last month when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) sent a letter to New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Director Alexa Sandoval. The letter, signed by FWS Director Dan Ashe, states that the denial of their request for renewal of a permit to release additional wolves into New Mexico prevents them from carrying out their responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act. FWS further states it “… has concluded that it has independent legal authority, pursuant to Federal statutes and regulations, to engage in all activities regarding the reintroduction of the Mexican wolf in New Mexico.”
The FWS letter continues by adding that “Exercising this authority will allow the Service to import, export, hold and transfer Mexican wolves in the State of New Mexico; and to release Mexican wolves on federal land in New Mexico without a state permit.” So the takeaway message for me is that FWS would like for New Mexico to believe that it doesn’t have any independent authority over activities that take place within its boundaries if they are not in alignment with what the Fed wants. I hope the State does not let this federal overreach stand.
As would be expected, The Santa Fe New Mexican editorial board opined that releasing more wolves was the right thing to do, without any regard for the rights of New Mexicans to protect their property, whether it is a rancher’s livestock or the State’s wildlife. The Albuquerque Journal also penned an editorial on this issue which was much more responsible, stating “No new recovery plan. No more wolves.”, and, “The federal government appears to be making up the program as it goes. New Mexico is right: A plan first, more wolves second.” While I don’t advocate for putting any more wolves on the ground, the Albuquerque Journal is right.
How is the Department of Game & Fish or the Game Commission supposed to carry out their statutory mandates without the benefit of an updated Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan which definitively states the goals of the program? The current plan dates all the way back to 1982 when the goal was to have 100 wolves “in the wild.” That number has now been exceeded and I have heard informally that the new goal might be 750 wolves in New Mexico and Arizona. It is completely irresponsible for the FWS to disregard the need of this State to have accurate information by which to make informed decisions. Additionally, it’s the height of hypocrisy for the FWS to posit that their non-essential wolf program trumps the rights of the State to protect the interests of its citizens. I frequently question why it is illegal for a person to steal another’s personal property but legal for the federal government to do the same by allowing their wolves to kill someone else’s livestock? I reckon that I’m just not as enlightened as the Feds are.
On a positive note, I attended a wolf meeting in Magdalena several weeks ago that was convened by the U.S. Forest Service and FWS to discuss proposed wolf release sites in the San Mateo and Datil Mountains. The positive thing was that the 40 or so ranchers refused throughout the meeting to agree that any of the proposed sites were acceptable, realizing that they would all be negatively impacted sooner or later.
Sherry Barrett, FWS Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator, at one point said that there were millions of Americans who were in favor of the wolf reintroduction program. One of the ranchers retorted that these people are not being impacted by wolves and suggested that FWS release wolves into Central Park in New York City to see if these people wouldn’t have a change of mind. Another rancher passionately implored the others to stand together and not be defeated by the federal juggernaut. As I left the meeting I reflected on how difficult it had to be for these ranchers to have stood there defending their property, livelihoods, families and communities, and having done so in a respectful manner.
With December just around the corner, I’d like to invite you to attend the Joint Stockmen’s Convention in Albuquerque on December 3rd through 5th. We’ll be discussing wolves and many other issues of interest to the greater livestock producing community. We have some great speakers lined up and we’ll have some fun too. Don’t miss out on the largest annual agricultural event in New Mexico. I hope to see you there.
José Varela López