New Mexico says 'no' to more wolves
USFWS could sidestep state in managing Mexican wolves
In what seems to be a growing trend, a state has squared off against a federal agency on matters of conservation and wildlife management. At issue: the Mexican wolf.
Last Tuesday, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) voted unanimously to deny release permits to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USF- WS). The USFWS has been in a year-long battle with the state to release a dozen new captive-born Mexican wolves into the state. This decision by the commissioners answered a USFWS appeal of an earlier prohibition from early June.
The USFWS has been pushing for the release of more captivebred Mexican wolves into New Mexico and Arizona, claiming the current breeding dynamics have created a high risk of inbreeding.
“Recovery of the Mexican wolf remains our goal and our statutory responsibility,” stated the USFWS in its official response to the Sept. 29 vote. “To achieve our recovery objective we must bolster the wild wolf population and improve population genetics, eventually leading to species recovery and state management of the species. Strategic releases of genetically desirable wolves are urgently needed and we must move forward to insure the genetic robustness of the population.”
The USFWS offered vague comments about their plans in their statement as well.
“The Service appreciates the New Mexico State Game Commission’s consideration of our appeal, but we are disappointed in the commission’s denial of our appeal request seeking a state permit to release Mexican wolves in New Mexico. … New Mexico Department of Game and Fish’s denial of state permits cannot stand as a significant impediment to the recovery of the Mexican wolf.
“It is our policy to consult with the states and comply with state permit requirements except in instances where the Secretary of the Interior determines that such compliance would prevent us carrying out our statutory responsibilities.”
WLJ’s requests for interviews with the USFWS, the NMDGF/state game commission, and the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association were not answered by press time.
According to the USFWS, the Mexican wolf is the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America with slightly over 100 individuals and eight known breeding pairs across New Mexico and Arizona. These numbers reflect individual wolves actually seen with agency biologists certain that more exist. According to enviro-litigation group Center for Biologic Diversity, there are additionally 15 Mexican wolves wild in Mexico, but WLJ could not corroborate that claim with more authoritative sources.
From 1998-2014, 95 Mexican wolves have been released into the primary recovery zone in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (see Map 1). Other wolves were translocated throughout the range as well. According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, over 300 additional captive-bred or captive-reared Mexican wolves exist in captive breeding facilities across the U.S. and Mexico.
USFWS reports show that 111 Mexican wolves have died over the same span of time. The majority of those deaths (60) were listed as “illegal mortality” which generally refers to being shot or trapped illegally. Natural mortality was the next most common cause of death (21) and vehicular collision was the third most common (15).
The Mexican wolf is listed as both endangered and experimental population/nonessential under the Endangered Species Act. Map 2 shows the extent of the species’ experimental population/nonessential range. — WLJ