New Mexico wildlife officials said Wednesday they will sue the federal government over its plan to release Mexican gray wolves into the New Mexico and Arizona wilderness this summer.
On Monday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it would release a male and female Mexican gray wolf and their pups in New Mexico this June and July. The federal plan also calls for integrating young wolf pups from captive litters with existing wild packs in Arizona. At least one adult wolf would be reintroduced in either New Mexico or Arizona under the plan, and the federal agency might relocate other wolves to the two states later this year.
But the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish says the federal agency is proceeding without first obtaining a necessary state permit and in violation of New Mexico law.
In a letter addressed to U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and others, the state calls the plan to reintroduce the Mexican wolves “experimental,” “illegal” and “unpermitted.”
The developments this week are part of an ongoing battle over the federal program to reintroduce Mexican gray wolves in the state, a species of concern for conservationists for nearly four decades but listed as endangered just last year. Some ranchers in the state and the Department of Game and Fish have opposed the program, saying federal officials don’t have sufficient science or an up-to-date management plan for the the wolves. Last year, the state department denied two proposals for Mexican gray wolf releases, including a request by the Fish and Wildlife Service. But the federal agency said it still intended to move forward with reintroduction and conservation efforts.
The state also denied a request in January by Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch in Southern New Mexico to renew its permit to import and house wolves in preparation for their release to the wild. In February, the State Game Commission and the ranch reached a deal for the transfer of five Mexican gray wolves from Washington state. But those wolves will be released in Mexico.
Paul Weiland, a lawyer for the state, said New Mexico will refrain from filing the lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service only if it agrees not to proceed with the wolf releases.
“The Department cannot stand idle and allow the USFWS to ignore the laws and regulations of New Mexico, just as the Department does not allow others to do so,” Dan Williams, a Game and Fish spokesman, said in a statement. “Recovery efforts cannot be successful without the support of all impacted stakeholders,” he said.
A number of New Mexico ranchers say the wolves pose a threat to their cattle and livestock. But Sherry Barrett, Mexican gray wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the Mexican Wolf and Livestock Council compensates ranchers when a wolf is responsible for loss of livestock.
Wolf reintroduction plans have been successful in other regions, including in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, where gray wolves have been released and populations are “robust, stable and self-sustaining,” according to a December 2015 year-end survey. But in New Mexico and Arizona, Mexican gray wolf populations declined between 2014 and 2015 from 110 wolves to 97, according to data released in mid-February.
Barrett said in an email that the varied results are due in part to the “working landscapes” in these states, where the species’ interests intersect with hunting, recreation and livestock.
The Fish and Wildlife plan identifies areas of the Gila Wilderness and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness in New Mexico for the potential wolf releases. The federal agency says there is no livestock grazing at these sites, though there are grazing leases 10 miles away. It says the wolves will be “actively monitored” to prevent disruption to livestock or people, although hikers and campers have reported encounters with the wolves in the past.
“This plan represents a critical and significant effort to increase genetic variability” in Mexican gray wolves, the federal agency’s planning document says.
“Recovery of the Mexican wolf remains the Service’s goal,” Barrett said in the email. “We have a statutory responsibility and the authority to recover the Mexican wolf and strive to do so in a collaborative manner with our partners.”
Contact Rebecca Moss at 505-986-3011 or email@example.com.