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Commentary: The Southwest Environmental Center blasted the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) for trying to block releases of endangered Mexican wolves into the state. NMDGF announced today that it was seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from releasing more wolves.
“We fully support federal officials for doing what is needed and legally required under federal law to recover the highly endangered Mexican wolf, despite the regrettable attempts by New Mexico to put roadblocks in their way for purely political reasons,” said Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center. “It seems pretty clear that NMDGF’s actions are a delaying tactic, and that state officials are trying to run out the clock on Mexican wolf recovery.”
Bixby noted that New Mexico officials under Governor Susana Martinez’ administration have consistently opposed Mexican wolf recovery. The state withdrew from participating as a partner in the recovery program in 2011 shortly after Martinez was elected. NMDGF and the NM Game Commission—whose seven members were appointed by Martinez—then abruptly denied permits that had routinely been issued in the past to FWS and Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch to import and release wolves in the state.
More recently, Martinez joined neighboring states’ governors in sending a letter to federal officials stating their opposition to allowing Mexican wolves to expand into areas that biologists say are essential to their recovery.
Bixby also noted that Mexican wolves are protected as a state endangered species under the New Mexico Wildlife Conservation Act (WCA). “Rather than wasting tax dollars trying to prevent federal officials from doing the right thing, NMDGF should do its job and get busy helping to restore wolves, as it is required to do under state law,” he said. The WCA requires that NMDGF develop recovery plans for species listed as threatened or endangered under the act, something the department has never done for Mexican wolves.
Biologists say that releases of more wolves into the wild from the captive population is the only way to reverse a decline in the genetic health of the wild Mexican wolf population. They say releases are urgently needed to restore genetic variation and prevent Mexican wolves from going extinct in the wild. The window for making these releases to carry out a “genetic rescue” of Mexican wolves is limited. The FWS recently placed two captive-born wolf pups, selected for their genetic makeup, with a wild litter in the Gila National Forest in a process known as cross-fostering.
NMDGF argues that FWS needs to finish revising its Mexican wolf recovery plan before going forward with releases, which FWS has committed to do by the end of 2017 as part of a court settlement. NMDGF is being disingenuous when it says that a recovery plan needs to be completed before more releases can take place. Recovery planning is important, but not the highest priority.
“It’s like saying you need to figure out how many gallons of water are needed to put out a fire before attempting to put it out,” said Bixby. “The decline in genetic health of wild Mexican wolves is the fire we need to put out—right now–and releasing more wolves is the only way to do it.”
With only about 97 Mexican wolves in the wild of NM and Arizona, and less than 25 in Mexico, the “lobo” is one of the most endangered canids on the planet.
The Southwest Environmental Center works to protect and restore wildlife and their habitats in the Southwest.