Plan to relocate wolves stirs debate in rural New Mexico
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Monday marked the last day for people to comment on plans by U.S. wildlife managers to relocate a pair of wolves and their pups to one of Ted Turner’s properties in New Mexico as part of a decades-long effort to return the endangered predators to the American Southwest.
Environmental groups have been being pushing for the release. They used a recent meeting of the New Mexico Game Commission to make public their support and urged followers via emails and social media to join the campaign and send letters to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before the deadline.
But ranchers have concerns given the wolf pair’s previous conflicts with livestock. Some have sent their own letters to the federal agency, voicing frustrations that they did not learn about the plan until recently and that ranchers and residents who will be affected were not adequately notified.
The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association said it contacted a few dozen of its members in the area and not one had received notice from federal officials about the plan.
The group contends that the two adult wolves were removed from other ranching areas due to multiple instances of cattle and horse deaths.
“Translocating wolves with this kill history is a threat to New Mexico livestock and is disingenuous to producers and other citizens,” the group wrote in a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service. “Translocating wolves with this history to private lands will only increase the animosity between producers and the Fish and Wildlife Service over its management of the Mexican gray wolf program.”
The proposal for letting the wolves go on the Ladder Ranch comes as federal managers try to boost genetic diversity among the wild population in New Mexico and Arizona.
Ranchers argue that there’s nothing to keep the wolves from wandering to other parts of the Gila National Forest. They noted the previous conflicts happened about 15 miles (24.14 kilometers) from where the wolves would be released.
Officials with the Ladder Ranch welcome the plan, saying the offer to have wolves roaming the property was made years ago. Mike Phillips, director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, has said the pair and their pups deserve a shot at trying to make a go of it in the wild.
The Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately say how long it would take for the agency to review the comments. Plans called for releasing the wolves next month.
Under the proposal, the wolves and their pups would be moved from their temporary home at a wildlife refuge in central New Mexico to the Ladder Ranch, where they would be kept in a remote chain-link pen for a couple of weeks so they can acclimate to the area.
Officials expected the wolves to establish a home range near the translocation site.
North America’s rarest subspecies of gray wolf, the Mexican gray wolf was listed as endangered in 1976 after being pushed to the brink of extinction.
Since the first wolves were released in the 1990s as part of the reintroduction program, the population has seen its numbers grow, with the latest annual census finding about 186 Mexican wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona.
The latest quarterly report from wildlife managers shows eight wolves have died since the beginning of the year. One died after being captured so its GPS collar could be replaced, another was hit by a car and the other deaths remain under investigation.
The report also shows more than three dozen livestock were killed by wolves between January and March, and federal officials logged more than 130 efforts during the period to keep the wolves away from cattle and other livestock.