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To The Point

by Caren Cowan

The Flop Test

Well maybe that is a little harsh, but the following quote from the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Proposed Regulations for the Nonessential Experimental Population of the Mexican Wolf — a rule that expands minimum wolf numbers from 100 to 325, and expands recovery acreage from seven million acres to 98 million acres — pretty well confirms that science or even logic are not the driving factors.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) states: “Because we do not have a sound, peer reviewed, scientific basis to guide us on where Mexican wolves are needed to reach full recovery (i.e., delisting), we are limiting the [revised rule regarding where wolves may be released] to areas south of Interstate 40 in Arizona and N.M. Furthermore, we are constrained by time limits placed upon us by the stipulated settlement agreement reached in Center for Biological Diversity v. Jewell, Case. No. 12-cv-1920 (August 2013). Pursuant to that agreement, the Service must publish this rule by January 12, 2015.”

Clearly the courts have taken over wildlife management. It will take Congress to change the dynamic if things are ever going to change.

While we are dreaming about that happening we need to get high behind on the latest comment period on the Final EIS and the draft Record of Decision (ROD). In a not-so-slight-of-hand, the FWS released the Final EIS on November 28 — the day after Thanksgiving. Comments are due two days after Christmas. Really? Could we find a time when the American public is more disengaged?

Jim Lane, The Lane Trust Group, wrote:

The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced release of a final environmental impact statement and record of decision regarding a rule change to the nonessential experimental population of Mexican wolves in N.M. and Arizona. According to a press release today from the Service, the new rule supports “the interests of other stakeholders on a working landscape.” That would be a laudable goal, but in real-life practice, the changes are outright offensive. In fact, the new rule includes drastic departures from anything the Service had proposed to date in the draft EIS process and will now include the following as taken from the Service press release –

n expansion of the areas within which Mexican wolves can be released, translocated, disperse and occupy. In Arizona, management activities would be methodically phased west of Highway 87 over a period of up to 12 years,

  • extension of the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area’s (MWEPA) southern boundary from I- 40 to the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona and N.M.,
  • new definitions in the rule, including provisions for take of Mexican wolves when attacking livestock and non-feraldogs, or as needed to manage wild ungulate populations (particularly elk and deer), and
  • a population objective of 300-325 Mexican wolves in the MWEPA.

Please note that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)and, indeed, the Service’s own policies dictate that the public would have an opportunity to comment on the proposed changes prior to a final Record of Decision being shoved down our collective throats. Alas, that is not to be the case. Many in the livestock, sportsmen, and agriculture industries sent Service Director Dan Ashe a letter on September 25 of this year expressing grave concern over a backroom deal that we had been advised of between the Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department that appeared to subvert the EIS and public participation process. In our letter, we demanded a supplemental EIS that would give the public a chance to read the apparent divergence from the lawfully vetted proposals to date. We received no response. Instead, a final EIS and Record of Decision that includes that very deal is now going to be released without any public participation in its development.

Such an overt and calculated move by this Administration has sadly become the norm. To add salt to the wound, the comment deadline for the American public to review and comment on a completely new set of parameters surrounding a failed wolf program within a federal government-sized final environmental impact statement is DECEMBER 27, 2014 – two days after Christmas. It is time to say enough is enough. The manner in which the federal government handles these issues is a travesty and in this instance points to another overt attempt by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to drastically expand the failed wolf program in N.M.. The time has come for the State and landowners to stand up and put an end to the continued assault on our private property and Constitutional rights.  Sadly, it appears that there is more of the same to come.

Lane and others will be preparing comments to submit by December 27 that must be filed to maintain standing to sue. It is clear that there will be more lawsuits hitting the FWS from every direction.

The Center for Biological Diversity has already filed suit against the agency for not creating a recovery plan for the species prior to this rule-making. Sadly, on this one they are right. How can a rule be created on the wolf program when the FWS has no plan to recover the critter and no defined goal for recovery?

It is a different story at the New Mexico level

According to Jim Lane who wrote, unlike Arizona, the N.M. State Game Commission has taken action to protect New Mexicans. At their November 2014 meeting the Commission unanimously adopted a rule change that requires the Commission to review and approve or deny applications for permits to keep wolves and other carnivores on private land for purposes of recovery or reintroduction. The new rule further states the Commission must review any permit application for the possession or use of any carnivore that is held, possessed or released on private property for the purpose of recovery, reintroduction, conditioning, establishment or reestablishment in N.M.. Until that vote, such permits were issued by the director of the Department of Game & Fish without approval by Commission.

Environmentalist wolf-loving critics spoke in opposition to the rule change stating that the new rule would hinder the Mexican gray wolf project and impede the rights of private landowners when in fact, it strengthens the rights of landowners who have been negatively impacted by the failed Mexican wolf program since its inception. “We would like to thank the State Game Commission and Governor Martinez for taking proactive steps to protect the livestock industry and rural families in the face of another overt attempt by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to drastically expand the failed wolf program in N.M.. The time has come for the State and landowners to stand up and put an end to the continued assault on our private property and Constitutional rights.” said Caren Cowan, Executive Director of the N.M. Cattle Growers’ Association. Cowan was referring to the recent draft Environmental Impact Statement released by the Service that proposes a radically expanded wolf range, unlimited releases of wolves on private and federal lands, and no limit on the number of wolves that could call N.M. home.

“The action taken last week by the State Game Commission will allow our voice to be heard on future proposed releases of Mexican wolves in our backyards. We appreciate the opportunity to discuss the impacts of the wolf program on our operations with the Commission prior to future unnecessary releases,” said Cowan after the vote. Other organizations who spoke in favor of the action were the N.M. Farm and Livestock Bureau and the N.M. Council of Outfitters & Guides.

A series of speakers told the Game Commission at a meeting in Española and insert politics into decisions that ought to be science-based. The administration of Governor Susana Martinez has not been wolf-friendly; the Game Commission in 2011 reversed course and suspended the Game & Fish Department’s participation in the federal recovery program.

The stated reason for November change – which will take effect in December – is to bring more transparency to the permitting process. There is public notice of commission meetings and agendas, and an opportunity to comment.

“We are working really hard for public input and . . . transparency on all issues,” said Commissioner Ralph Ramos of Las Cruces.

Aside from a few comments about transparency, the Commission didn’t discuss the rule change before the unanimous voice vote. Nor did commissioners talk about why they were voting for a scaled-back version of what was originally proposed three months ago.

Opponents said facilities that hold captive populations are important to the wolf recovery effort because the gene pool is critical to the wild population and the facilities can be used for breeding. There is a shortage of room for new wolf pups as it is, according to the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club.

One of two such facilities on private land in N.M. is the Ladder Ranch near Truth or Consequences, owned by Ted Turner. Mike Phillips, executive director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, told the Albuquerque Journal the ranch has been on good terms with the state for 16 years.

He told the Commission the revised rule could affect private property rights. And because the rule covers black-footed ferrets, which are being restored to the wild on Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch, Phillips said he is concerned about the effect on that program.

“There’s really a lot at play here,” he told the commission.

A handful of supporters of the rule change included the N.M. Farm & Livestock Bureau and N.M. Cattle Growers’ Association member and northern N.M. rancher Carlos Chacon, who said the wolf recovery program jeopardizes the safety of livestock and people.

What comes next?

The results of the 2014 general election are in — at least in most places. There are a few notable exceptions like the State Land Commissioner, the U.S. Senator in Louisiana and the congressional seat in southern Arizona.

It seemed like the American public sent a loud and clear message that they wanted something different from our federal government. Unfortunately the new minority has the “lame duck” session to continue to wreck havoc on the county and the new majority hasn’t found their legs to stand up.

Because Congress hadn’t gotten its appropriations work done before the election, the roulette games with the lives of people are on. An expansive package of wilderness, national parks and energy measure were added to the National Defense Authorization Act — and we are told that this is the best they can do.

Clearly the first level of wrongness is the fact that are troops are a bargaining chip for anything. Most people don’t understand that freedom isn’t free and a relatively few families are paying the price for all of the rest of us. How dare anyone pit them against wilderness designations — or anything else for that matter?

This whole issue may have played out by the time you are reading this and we hope and pray that we can have some impact on the outcome.

Then there is closer to home

With a Republican majority in the N.M. House of Representatives for the first time since I was born, none us have any idea how the upcoming Legislature will bring. Everyone is on a level playing field in that this is new territory for virtually all of us. One thing for sure is that it will be interesting.

Best Wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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