A lone male wolf loped across the sandy landscape of the Chihuahuan Desert under a waning January moon in 2017, heading north. The male, known as M1425, was a member of a small population of endangered Mexican gray wolves reintroduced into Mexico in 2012. The wolf was doing exactly what male wolves should be doing: exploring the landscape in search of new habitat, food sources and possibly even a mate. M1425 spent two nights exploring the new range before turning south and heading back to familiar territory. The journey north, which took the wolf across the U.S.-Mexico border, was encouraging to researchers who tracked the animal’s peregrinations by GPS collar.
Just a week after the announcement that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle would be reassigned, the agency issued a notice saying it will give states the authority to decide where and when Mexican gray wolves can be released. Related story: Interior Department reorganization will hit New Mexico’s landscapes, communities
On Thursday, the agency released a draft revision to its Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, which guides plans to remove the wolf from protection under the Endangered Species Act. Under the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez, New Mexico has opposed wolf reintroductions, and in 2011, the Game Commission ended the state’s participation in the program. The commission also voted to stop the federal government from releasing any new captive-raised wolves in the state and sued. A federal judge then blocked any new releases.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its annual survey numbers for Mexican Gray Wolves in the Gila National Forest. As of the end of December, there were 113 wolves living in the recovery area, which includes areas in both New Mexico and Arizona. That’s an increase of 16 from the 2015 survey. In a statement, the agency’s southwest regional director Benjamin Tuggle said the goal is to achieve an annual growth rate of 10 percent. According to the survey, there are a total of 21 packs, with at least 50 wolves in New Mexico and 63 in Arizona.
A debate raged Wednesday among dozens of people outside the state Capitol over wolves versus ranchers. “More wolves,” shouted some people holding signs with slogans like “Free the Lobos.” Their supporters howled. “No wolves,” shouted another group, some wearing cowboy hats and holding signs that said, “Moove Over Wolves!” and “No More Lobos!”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its latest round of funding to help ranchers affected by or living near wolves earlier this month. Nationwide, the grants amount to $900,000. One-third of that money will go toward projects in Arizona and New Mexico. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wolf Livestock Demonstration Grant Program offers two types of matching, competitive grants to states and tribes. One compensates livestock owners when wolves are proven to have killed their animals.
Despite the state Game Commission’s disapproval, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is planning on releasing some Mexican Gray Wolves in Southeastern New Mexico. The state Game Commission voted late last month to continue to deny a permit to the federal government for the release. The decision by the commission upheld the decision of a previous director. The proposed release is part of the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program which seeks to reintroduce the species that was nearly brought to extinction by the 1970s. The Santa Fe New Mexican first reported the news on the federal decision, citing a statement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
ALBUQUERQUE – Scientists and wild animal advocates are calling on federal authorities to release at least five packs of Mexican gray wolves into New Mexico’s Gila National Forest to preserve the endangered species. Mary Katherine Ray, wildlife chair of the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club, says the move is necessary to avoid inbreeding among the last 110 wolves living in the U.S.
She says scientists and 43 conservation organizations sent a sent a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell after state officials failed to act. “Actually, New Mexico has a law that requires the state to recover endangered species,” Ray points out. “And the gray wolf is a New Mexico state-listed endangered species, as well as a federally listed one.” Some ranchers and hunters maintain increasing the number of wolves in the Gila National Forest could lead to loss of livestock and elk.
The state Game Commission denied a permit to allow the release of more Mexican Gray Wolves into New Mexico. The commission’s denial on Tuesday upheld the decision of a previous director. That initial decision was appealed by federal officials. The endangered species has been part of a controversial reintroduction program in the southwest by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Farmers and ranchers have been against the program, saying the wolves feed on livestock.
Environmental and animal rights groups are criticizing the New Mexico Game Commission’s Thursday decisions on cougar trapping and bear hunting. The commission voted in Santa Fe to allow cougar trapping on state trust and private land and also voted to increase the amount of bears that can be hunted each year. The votes were both unanimous. The Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter opposed the changes and has argued over recent weeks that this goes against the wishes of New Mexicans. “We’re highly disappointed that the commissioners decided to approve killing more carnivores, especially with cruel and indiscriminate traps, and that they appeared to ignore the vast majority of New Mexicans and their wishes,” Mary Katherine Ray, Wildlife chair of Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, said in a statement following the votes.