State move will make recovery more difficult; only 50 wolves roam in New Mexico and Arizona
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — New Mexico has ended its partnership with the federal government on trying to restore the endangered Mexican Gray Wolf to the state. The state’s game commission voted unanimously last week to end the collaboration after ranchers expressed concern about livestock predation. More on the federal recovery effort at this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service page.
The vote disappointed a passionate crowd of about 100 wolf supporters who had rallied before the commission meeting and flouted the recommendations of 13 state and national conservation groups that had written to the governor to applaud the game department’s role in wolf recovery and suggest improvements.
“New Mexico’s governor sided with an intransigent, wolf-hating livestock industry,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Ironically, withdrawing state participation will undercut successful proactive efforts to prevent wolf-livestock conflicts, and could lead to an increase in livestock losses.”
The New Mexico Game and Fish Department has played important roles in reducing conflict over wolves, including helping keep calves from the immediate vicinity of the Dark Canyon Pack’s den in the Gila National Forest and providing food for the Middle Fork Pack (also in the Gila and led by a pair of three-legged alpha wolves) so that they would not resort to killing cattle. Last year, in large part due to game department efforts, wolves killed only nine cattle in New Mexico and Arizona.
Livestock-industry groups, which had repeatedly litigated and gone to Congress seeking to compel government shooting and trapping of wolves and end wolf releases, were furious that state wildlife biologists (with the support of former Gov. Bill Richardson) had persuaded the Fish and Wildlife Service not to destroy the Middle Fork and San Mateo wolf packs when they preyed on cattle in 2008 and 2009. Stock owners were indemnified for their losses; the wolves ceased killing stock and resumed preying on elk.
At last count in January of this year, only 50 wolves, including just two breeding pairs, could be found in New Mexico and Arizona. Federal trapping and shooting of wolves suppressed their numbers and contributed to inbreeding, but from 2008 through the present wolves have been spared from official persecution, and the number of depredations on livestock decreased year-by-year as well.
“We are worried that without New Mexico biologists’ help, wolves will prey on untended cattle in the Gila National Forest, and the livestock industry that demanded withdrawal of the state from management will then demand the trapping and shooting of the hapless wolves,” said Robinson.