Mexican gray wolf

A Mexican gray wolf leaves cover at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, north of Socorro. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service file photo

In a direct snub to state officials, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that plans to release up to 10 Mexican gray wolf pups and a mating pair into the wilds of southwestern New Mexico sometime in 2016 , even though state game officials have refused to issue a permit for the action.

The federal agency sent an internal memo Wednesday about the decision to members of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Team that said it will release the wolves as part of its recovery program for a species that is at risk of extinction. 

“It is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s obligation under the law to recover this species, and reintroductions into the wild from the more genetically diverse captive population are an essential part of that recovery process,” the memo said.

Fish and Wildlife said it notified New Mexico Game and Fish Department Director Alexandra Sandoval, who previously denied a permit for the releases to occur in 2015. Despite protests from dozens of environmental groups, the seven-member State Game Commission late last month unanimously rejected the federal government’s appeal of her decision.

Wednesday’s statement said the U.S. Department of the Interior is exempting the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program from a policy of complying with state permit requirements in New Mexico. The announcement added that the Fish and Wildlife Service prefers to work with the state in its efforts to rescue endangered species and hopes it can do so with other programs.

The federal government’s decision to ignore Sandoval and release the wolves onto National Forest Service land is the latest in an ongoing fight between the Fish and Wildlife Service under President Barack Obama’s administration and the Game and Fish Department under the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez.

In June, Sandoval refused to issue a permit for the Mexican wolf program, saying the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lacked a detailed plan to release up to 10 captive Mexican wolves in the Gila National Forest. Sandoval said that left her without enough information on what effects the predators would have on elk and deer populations. The federal agency disputes her characterization, saying it has released the wolves into the wild in the past.

At the Sept. 29 meeting at which the State Game Commission unanimously rejected the federal government’s appeal of the permit denial, dozens of protesters voiced their frustration at the commissioners, who are appointed by the Republican governor. “No surprise! Shameful!” audience members said as the vote was announced.

Paul Kienzle of Albuquerque, chairman of the commission, has expressed concerns about wolves coexisting with people and livestock. He has referenced one wolf that was shot and killed, saying “that was a problem animal that was ultimately put down.”

But advocates say the commissioners gave in to the agricultural industry’s interests. Ranchers have said the predators threaten their livestock and their safety.

Kienzle and a spokesman for Game and Fish didn’t immediately return after-hours messages from The New Mexican seeking comment.

Small numbers of captive Mexican gray wolves have been placed in the wild since 1998. They are the most endangered subspecies of wolf, with a population of 109 in the wilderness of two states, New Mexico and Arizona.

Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, an advocacy group, applauded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to continue with its efforts regardless of the state’s opposition.

“Releasing Mexican wolves to the wild is the only way to save these animals from extinction,” he said. “It’s vital now that enough wolves get released to diversify their gene pool and ensure they don’t waste away from inbreeding.”

Contact Uriel Garcia at 986-3062 or ugarcia@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @ujohnnyg.

Clarification: The Fish and Wildlife Service applied for the permit in early 2015 to release up to ten Mexican gray wolf pups for cross-fostering with wild wolf packs in addition to releasing a captive adult pair of wolves. The state's denials delayed any releases past the time when they would usually occur for 2015. The original story also said the Fish and Wildlife Service had issued a statement about the releases. The statement was an internal memo that was not publicly available unless requested.

(15) comments

Brice Henry

NM Game & Fish needs to sue the Feds for corruption and fraud. It's illegal to list wolves as endangered species by zip code. Sue the Feds for 1 billion dollar for lies, fraud and corruption. Sue very single wolf lover and make them grow up and be adults and pay for the destruction wolves have caused. The only way to fix stupid is make them grow up and pay up.

Roseanna Calloway

Mr. Henry you seem to be lacking in some very important facts about what is going on. The Feds are not the ones guilty of fraud or corruption.They have decided to proceed with releasing all 10 of the Mexican wolves to prevent extinction of the species which is an action outlined in the requirements of the Endangered Species Act. Are you aware of what an ecosystem is and what it takes to keep the delicate balance to prevent our earth from becoming just a barren wasteland that will only be suitable for rocks and nothing else. The only way to fix stupid is to get educated. Wolves are necessary to keep elk and other grazing wildlife from eating all the vegetation which if happened would prove disastrous to us all on many levels. I am a wolf lover so come sue me.

James Wilson

"We want wolves." I wonder if the people shouting this the loudest are those who will never be within a hundred miles of a wolf. As opposed to the people whose livestock will be killed and maimed. Kinda like the people crying so loud to let all the Central American and Mexican riff raff into the country are those who have sufficient economic power to be exempt from all the negative impacts of unleashing these hoards on our country. "We wuv wuffs!" How endearing. Kinda reflects well on you, gee, you must be a 'good person', mmh? Until some little kid gets mauled by one. The state has spoken. The federal government needs to get the hell out of our lives, already.

Joespeh Garcia

You do know that "Little Red Riding Hood" isn't true, correct? Wolves do not attack people. They may attack livestock, but that is a different issue. And there are very decent proposals to address the livestock issue, especially considering much of the land we are talking about is federal or state owned and leased by ranchers for pennies on the dollar.

James Wilson

Wolves don't attack people and yet Wikipedia has a "wolf attacks in North America" page that starts out listing 30 fatalities, and a note saying it is "incomplete."

And thanks for ruining the Little Red Riding Hood story for me, too. . . .

Cathy McManus

Too bad the Feds have to shoot down the decision by the NM Game & Fish as well as Gov Martinez but their decision was not based on true facts only fiction and the $ they received from Ranchers and hunters. These precious endangered Mexican Wolves will now have a a good chance to survive and thrive! I am one happy New Mexican!

Peter Romero

Humans essential predators as well.

Question, how can the feds do this ? aren't all animals property of the state ?

I really don't care for the politicization of the wolf, they essentially are the victim in the whole political mess. Its not republicans or democrats. We should view it as were are Americans and residents on New Mexico and we want wolves. After all the wolf is a living breathing animal !

Larry Hilaire

Animals are property of the people. The State is given authority by the people to manage the wildlife. The federal government's authority is paramount in situations like this, because the Endangered Species Act is federal law, as is the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, etc.

The federal authority comes under the property clause of the US Constitution. Whatever is not reserved for the federal government automatically goes to the states' for authority.

janis green

What wonderful news for this iconic, beautiful and essential predator. There is a reason it is referred to as Keystone Predator...without the wolf, everything gets out of balance. So glad to see this happen! The rumored wolf attack on a human in SE Arizona has not been proven...could have been a dog attack, or a human got near a denning pack.

Jacob Barba

One confirmed wolf attack on humans was reported in SE Arizona. Captive bred wolves don't know how to hunt for food.Maybe a myth but not worth the risk of life or livestock.

Joespeh Garcia

Exactly why we need to establish a genetically diverse non-captive wolf reintroduction program. Thanks for you your support on the idea that we need to let wolves be introduced to bread naturally! And risking livestock over a "myth".... well, I am gonna go with the science on that one, rather than the myth. And I am going to go with a sustainable ecosystem over a myth.

Cindy Roper

as it should be!!

I hope Chairman Kienzle was misquoted here: "Paul Kienzle of Albuquerque, chairman of the commission, has expressed concerns about wolves coexisting with people and livestock." If not, I'd like to add that WOLVES don't coexist with HUMANS, HUMANS need to learn to coexist with WOLVES.

James Wilson

Why do wolves have more rights than humans? Because you think they're cute? Ebola virus was probably also here first--must we learn to coexist with that?

Judy Kaminsky

Release the Wolves!

(Put the Republicans into the captive breeding program. No, wait; we don't really want them to breed.)

Linda Worley

This is great news.

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