Dianne L Stallings, Ruidoso News
Commissioners don’t budge on opposition to wolf recovery plans
As in past Mexican gray wolf recovery plans, the Lincoln County Commission approved a letter and reaffirmed a resolution in opposition to a draft released for public comment by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Commissioners were following the recommendations last week of the board of supervisors of the Upper Hondo Water and Soil Conservation District and of the members of the county’s Land and Natural Resources Advisory Committee.
Giving some background, County Manager Nita Taylor said three previous recovery plans were written for the Mexican wolf in 1982, in 2000 and in 2009. The 2017 first revision will replace and supersede the 1982 recovery plan, she said.
“The (commission) has taken an opposing stance for years regarding recovery plans for the Mexican wolf,” Taylor said. “In fact, in November 2015, (commissioners) unanimously passed Resolution 2015-22 opposing a newly released record of decision and final rule about the recovery program, which proposed numerous potential wolf release sites in neighboring Socorro County.”
Commissioners voted to submit a new letter of objection by the Aug. 29 deadline.
Laura Johnson, program director for Upper Hondo, said her board historically has opposed the wolf reintroduction and recovery plan, and has “strived to achieve the recognition that should be afforded as a contributing government agency.”
Her board also approved a letter “not citing specific research or incidents, but general comments of opposition to the recovery plan,” that included loss of livestock and possible wildlife deaths.
“The economy of our area is extremely dependent on (livestock sales and wildlife hunting),” she said. “The (National Environmental Policy Act) requires local government be consulted and (Upper Hondo can find) no record of that.” Other criticisms include ambiguous language and a rancher reimbursement plan for livestock loss that is cumbersome and difficult to prove, she said.
Robert Barber, LANRAC chairman, said his committee’s comments were in line with Upper Hondo.
“The plan is incomplete in our opinion, because it doesn’t go into specifics required by law,” he said. “We recommend we continue to oppose this plan. It doesn’t specific what to do or how to reach five and 10 year goals.”
He said 380 wolf releases have occurred in the “experimental population” area, which encompasses “everything from the (Mexico) border north to Interstate 40, and from the Arizona-California border to the eastern New Mexico border with west Texas.”
Some of the early releases occurred in the Blue Range of the Gila and Apache National Forest, he said. About half of the 113 wolves counted in December in that range are in New Mexico.
Barber contended that range historically is not wolf territory.
“In 1996, Fish and Wildlife expanded it, because of the amount of food prey available to the wolves, mostly elk and deer,” Barber said. “They are opportunistic hunters. In 2015, 100 contacts with wolves were reported involving cattle, one horse, dogs and pets.”
About 50 percent of those reports were confirmed by a third party, he said.
The plan “talks a lot about what wolves need, but not the impact they have on the environment, especially because it is not their historical range. Are there enough elk and deer to support them and other predators already there, like lions and bears. If not, they will transfer to cattle and sheep, any livestock that becomes easy prey for them.”
Territory lines have changed, but about 70 percent of what is consider high quality wolf habitat lies within the Lincoln National Forest, Barber said.
“They eventually will add animals to our area, but they are not saying when and how many in any of their reports,” he said. “We live with a lot of wildlife in the wildland-urban interface. We have elk and deer in our communities and they will draw wolves, increasing encounters. That’s not addressed at all in their report.”
Methods of avoiding conflicts suggested in the report included range riders, nonlethal ammunition and diversionary feeding, using road kill to keep wolves away from the cattle, he said.
“In our opinion that is counter intuitive and in conflict with (advice not to) feed wild animals,” he said. “They don’t talk about the cost or who is responsible. I think it would come back to land owners and permittees, and this stuff is expensive.”
In offering his motion to oppose the plan, which passed unanimously, Commissioner Tom Stewart said he wanted to see the letter emphasize the commission’s contention that FWS “blatantly violated NEPA requirements” and that the actions of the FWS are unconstitutional, “because they undermine the commission’s ability to protect the health, safety and welfare of citizens.” He also wanted wording suggesting that an investigation be launched by federal legislators as to why the FWS “continues to disregard points made by local elected officials.”
Commission Chairman Preston Stone, a rancher, said at this time, “zero conversations” are occurring about the loss of livestock. He accused agency officials of misrepresenting the situation to the public and not abiding by the agency’s own rules and regulations established with the first releases.
Barber added that in researching county laws, he found an ordinance that prohibits the release of predators such as canines, bears and large cats.