Ranchers sue to remove wolves
By John Kamin, staff writer
Ranchers and county leaders are trying to stop the Blue Range Mexican Gray Wolf reintroduction project by suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Coalition of the Arizona and New Mexico Counties Executive Director Howard Hutchinson said that individual ranchers and cattle groups joined forces to file a lawsuit to remove the wolves from the wild. The preliminary injunction that was filed about two weeks ago includes testimony from local rancher Rocky Manuz about the reintroduction project. In his testimony, Manuz addresses alleged and proven depredations caused by the wolves.
The primary goal of the lawsuit is to prove the wolves are crossbreeding and to put them temporarily back into captivity until safeguards are designed to prevent the disruption of the wolves’ gene pool. If this were to happen, wolves would be removed from the Blue Range Reintroduction Area that includes eastern Arizona and western New Mexico.
Hutchinson said the lawsuit focuses on the high probability of wolves interbreeding with domestic canines or wolf hybrids, decreasing the purity of their endangered gene pool. He said the groups have evidence of a wolf litter that has markings that look exactly like a breed of ranching dog known as catahoula dogs.
“We also believe that there have been other instances of crossbreeding with coyotes, domestic dogs or wolf hybrids,” he said. “Part of our claim is that the Fish and Wildlife Service has refused to honor our Freedom of Information Act request with this genetic issue.”
He said the FWS has refused to release information about crossbreeding studies. Environmental Impact studies and environmental assessments have not included information about wolves’ genetic impurities, or the economic concerns of the counties that have the wolves, he said.
“That is a violation of the Endangered Species Act that the Fish and Wildlife Service is perpetrating,” Hutchinson said. “The Fish and Wildlife Service assured everybody that they were going to monitor these wolves.”
Center for Biological Diversity wildlife biologist Michael Robinson said the lawsuit is a slightly different version of a 1999 lawsuit.
“It’s a rewrite of the lawsuit that got laughed out of court in 1999,” he said. The 1999 suit claimed that all the wolves that were being released were genetic hybrids, whereas the recent lawsuit claims that the wolves are mating with hybrids and ranching dogs.
He said the Albuquerque Journal wrote an editorial about the 1999 lawsuit and referred to ranchers’ evidence as “cowboy biology.”
Robinson said there was one litter of hybrid wolf pups that was discovered by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“It is not a threat to the program as a whole,” he said. “They reacted as they said they would to the hybrids.”
The FWS destroyed the litter to prevent more hybrids from threatening the genetic purity of the wolves.
“This group of people that has no sense of sympathy for the program is now shedding crocodile tears over the wolves,” Robinson said.
Another safeguard that ranchers want considered is the economic impact that is caused by the wolves.
He said that ranching interests were not taken into account when the first Environmental Impact State-ment of 1996 was written. The initial calculations of the EIS estimated how many cattle deaths would be caused by 100 wolves in the wild.
“That’s the basis for analysis, that those 100 wolves would take so many cattle,” he said. “We pointed that out to them about the first EIS. That many wolves would do more depredations.”
He said the system that reimburses ranchers for depredations is faulty because the group that reimburses the ranchers is the Defenders of Wildlife group. The group supports the reintroduction project.
“If Defenders (of Wildlife) wants to turn all of that funding over to an independent third party, then that’s fine,” Hutchinson said.
Robinson said the ranchers are only being reimbursed because the Defenders of Wildlife felt generous enough to offer them money.
“The system is the way it is because the Defenders of Wildlife offered to set up a fund,” he said. “There is absolutely no legal obligation for anybody to pay for lost animals.”
He questioned the reimbursement process by noting that if a rancher loses a cow to a mountain lion, bear or other wild animal, no one reimburses them. He noted that he lives in a forest, and that if there is a large wildfire and his house burns down, no one besides the insurance company will reimburse him because he knew the risk of living there.
“They’ve been sucking at the government’s teat for so long that they’ve completely lost perspective,” Robinson said.
Economic impacts could also affect hunting tourism to the counties in the reintroduction area, he said.
“We felt they were in error of calculating a natural prey base,” Hutchinson said.
He said western New Mexico has seen a decreasing deer population.
If the wolves start to eat more elk, the number of elk permits will eventually decrease because hunters won’t want to hunt in areas with bad elk populations.
“There’s this hunting industry that gives hunters an opportunity to successfully take an elk, which is why they buy the permits,” he said. He said the permits are the cornerstone of revenue for the Arizona and New Mexico Game and Fish departments.
Danger to humans?
Hutchinson said it was only a matter of time until a wolf attacks a human.
“People’s pets are being injured and killed,” he said. “How much is a human child worth? How much is your grandmother worth? To say that a wild predator is never going to attack a human is ridiculous.”
Robinson acknowledged that wolves are wild animals and that they are dangerous if they are approached.
“Wolves fit into the same category as bears, rattlesnakes and mountain lions,” he said. Robinson said that a New Mexico man recently had to be airlifted to a hospital after going into his tent to try and scare away a raccoon that walked into it.
“If one does not treat animals with respect, they’re in trouble,” Robinson said. He said many ranchers are complaining for their children’s safety and that they do not feel safe about letting their children play alone on the ranches.
He questioned the logic of allowing children to play alone in an area known to have wildlife without supervision.
Robinson said there are no documented attacks of a healthy, non-rabid wolf attacking a human in North America.
“To say there are no attacks in North America is a complete and blatant lie,” Hutchinson said. “A false sense of security is out there.”