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NM: Hearing Saturday on Mexican gray wolf plan

By Rebecca Moss | The New Mexican

After more than three decades, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in the final stages of creating a new management plan for the Mexican gray wolf, an endangered species whose place in New Mexico and across the southwestern United States has long been contested.

Landowners in Catron County, for instance, say Mexican wolves hunt livestock and threaten the safety of their children, while wolf advocates argue that federal and state agencies have done too little to protect a predator that brings balance to its native lands.

The draft species management plan was released at the end of June. On Saturday, during a meeting with Fish and Wildlife officials in Albuquerque, the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the wolves’ future in the state.

The absence of an up-to-date plan for the wolves has been the subject of extensive debate, especially in New Mexico, where state officials have argued there isn’t enough scientific evidence to prove that Mexican wolves born in captivity should be released into the wild to rehabilitate the population. The federal government, however, has said such releases are crucial to the survival of the species because they introduce genetic diversity.

Federal officials, unable to get the state’s approval for wolf releases, proceeded in April 2016 with placing two captive-born Mexican wolf pups in a wild den the Gila Wilderness. The state then filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction on wolf releases. A federal court temporarily granted the injunction, but it was later overturned by an appeals court.

In May 2017, the state issued a temporary permit for the cross-fostering effort, in which two captive-born pups could be released into a newborn wild litter if two wild pups were removed.

A long delay in the development of a new Mexican wolf recovery plan also triggered legal action, compelling the Fish and Wildlife Service to complete a management plan by November.

But the draft plan already has triggered criticism and fear among wolf conservation advocates, who say the practices outlined in the plan are insufficient for the species’ long-term survival. They say it gives too much authority to states with a history of hostility toward the wolves, limits the territory where wolves can roam and allows for too few wolves to remain in the wild.

The effort also comes as several bills introduced in Congress would reform the Endangered Species Act and delist endangered wolves across the nation. According to The Associated Press, a proposed spending plan for the Interior Department would fund a study to determine if Mexican wolves are a distinct species worthy of special protections.

“We need to protect our endangered species, but we need to do it in a smart way,” U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, said during a House committee hearing this week. “Arbitrary deadlines do not help. Neither do sweeping listings that threaten the communities and landowners who have been on that land since before the time states like mine were created.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., also has been a critic of the federal Mexican wolf program and has called for the management of the species to be handled by the state.

Wolf advocates are pushing back.

On July 14, 31 New Mexico conservationist and wolf advocacy groups sent a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service in Albuquerque, asking that the federal agency release additional Mexican wolves in New Mexico before the “window of opportunity” closes this year.

“Our request is based on the declining genetic condition of the sole U.S. wild population of this critically imperiled subspecies,” the letter said.

Saturday’s meeting will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza in Albuquerque, 1901 University Blvd. NE.

A pro-wolf rally will begin in front of the building at 1:15 p.m.

If you go

What: Public hearing on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mexican gray wolf management plan

When: 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Crowne Plaza in Albuquerque, 1901 University Blvd. NE