photo of wolf

By Mary Katherine Ray, Chapter Wildlife chair

At its August meeting, the New Mexico Game Commission considered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s new Mexican Wolf Draft Recovery Plan.

The plan was the result of a court order to replace the old recovery plan, which is decades out of date. Despite the plan’s questionable ability to actually recover wolves, both the Farm and Livestock Bureau and the New Mexico Cattlegrowers, staunch wolf detractors, testifed at the commission meeting that it is too generous to wolves.

Wolf biologists and conservation organizations (including Sierra Club) also oppose the plan, for the opposite reason: It is woefully inadequate and will not result in wolf recovery.

Game Commissioner Robert Ricklefs berated the plan by saying, “If there’s ever any reason to believe that the Endangered Species Act needs to be repealed or replaced or reformed, this is Exhibit One.”

Game Commission Chair Paul Kienzle added, “This problem started December 28, 1973, when Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act. So you can blame him and the 93rd Congress for the Endangered Species Act.”  (Consider for a moment that these derogatory statements about our nation’s most important wildlife-protection law come from members of a commission tasked with protecting wildlife.)

The Fish and Wildlife wolf recovery plan would:

  • Require Mexico, a sovereign nation not subject to following the U.S. Endangered Species Act, to create and maintain one subpopulation of wolves for resiliency and redundancy in the case of catastrophic loss of the U.S. population. Scientists previously recommended that three subpopulations are needed for this purpose and that there is suitable habitat in the U.S. for two more encompassing the Grand Canyon region and the Southern Rockies of Northern New Mexico. Most of the wolf habitat that remains in Mexico is privately held, so the need for private landowners’ cooperation is unenforceable. Moreover, this Mexican subpopulation will be as geographically isolated from the wild wolf population in the U.S. as is the captive population, offering very little chance for recolonization of one from the other, defeating the purpose of having subpopulations in the first place.
  • Concede to the states of New Mexico and Arizona the power over the timing, circumstance and location of future wolf releases in each state, releases that are critically and quickly needed to bolster the genetics of wild wolves. These states’ Game Commissions have been hostile to wolf reintroduction. New Mexico especially in the Gov. Martinez era has thwarted such releases by requiring and then denying permits. Yet in order to assure that the wild population has as much needed genetic diversity as the captive one, around 70 wolves will have to be released within the next few years.

Notwithstanding the negative comments about wolves, the commission did vote to support the plan, not because it limits where and how many wolves there can be, or because it gives so much decision-making authority to the commission or because the commission would like to see successful wolf recovery, but because the Fish and Wildlife Service is under court order to produce a plan by the last day of November.

Cynically, as the Commission chair said, “If we do not as a Commission comment on this plan, the way federal law is structured, we are essentially boxed out from effectively participating in litigation over this plan.”

In other words, by supporting the plan with all its concessions to wolf detractors, the New Mexico Game Commission is reserving its standing to sign onto lawsuits over whatever small part of the pie is still left to wolves.

It remains to be seen if the Fish and Wildlife Service will modify the draft plan for the November deadline. Will any consideration be given to the wolf biologists and wildlife organizations that commented on the plan’s inadequacy, or to more than 100,000 comments from the public, most of which voiced similar dismay? If your comment is among them, thank you! Will reason or political contrivance prevail?

Check your email for news from our chapter at the end of November.

NM backs weak federal wolf plan