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NM: Pro-wolf protest sparks counter by county ranchers

Dianne L Stallings , Ruidoso News

Ranchers urge more study and a better release plan before wolves released to boost population and genetic diversity

The ranchers and their family members who ended up holding signs protesting the continued reintroduction of gray Mexican wolves in New Mexico didn’t plan on spending their time in Santa Fe in front of television cameras.

But Ashley Ivins, who is from a sixth generation Lincoln County ranching family, said she’s glad the opportunity arose.

“It was a step outside our comfort zone, but I’m glad that we got to show that there are two sides to the story,” she said Monday.

“The call to go to the protest came from the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association and the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau,” Ivins said. “There were a lot of people from the agricultural industry already in Santa Fe at the time. It’s kind of a traditional time of the year to go for us. The livestock bureau puts on an event called the Ag Fest for the senators and representatives, and there’s also 4-H Day (at the state legislature) and I have my kids there for that.”

When the agencies found out about a planned protest of Gov. Susana Martinez’ halt on the release of more wolves, “They thought we really should go and talk about a different side of this,” she said. “It was the first time an agricultural group in New Mexico that I know of has done this counter-protest thing. We really didn’t know how it was going to work out. It actually went remarkable well. There weren’t many of us. It’s always hard to get people together to rally, because everybody is in a hurry to get home to their cattle.”

She estimated from 25 to 30 people from the ranching industry showed up compared to a few hundred who arrived for the planned protest of the governor’s delay in reintroduction.

“We overall were pleased, because photos of us made some of the news, which we didn’t expect,” Ivins said. She was filmed by a media representative when one of the pro-wolf protesters was “yelling in my face trying to make their point,” she said. “I kept my cool and remained calm. I responded as reasonably as I could to the things she was saying. She just kept screaming at me and eventually she got tired of my reasonable responses, I guess, and decided she couldn’t provoke me.”

One protesters came over to her 12-year-old daughter to block the girl’s sign. The child tried to talk to him about why they were there.

“He said he didn’t care about her livestock and didn’t care if they died and that really upset her,” Ivins said. “She’s an avid 4-H’er and loves her animals. She knows they are being raised for food, but that doesn’t make any of us ranchers love our animals any less.

“I don’t feel the ranchers are anti-wolf necessarily, just the program as implemented so far hasn’t been working so well. When the wolves originally roamed wherever they roamed, which is debatable, there weren’t cattle out there. And that’s an easy prey that wasn’t there before.”

While idealistically, it’s nice to envision things the way they used to be, Ivins said there are more people and more industries. “It’s not like it used to be,” she said. “It’s a clash of reality versus that idealism. Nobody wants any animal to be extinct, but at the same time it’s difficult when a wolf kills your livestock.”

While a branch of the reintroduction program provides compensation for the loss of livestock, if a rancher can prove a wolf executed the kill, the amount doesn’t consider the market value of the livestock or cover the potential 10 years of calf reproduction from a cow, Ivins contended.

Although wolves have not been released in Lincoln County, Ivins said discussions have occurred about moving release sites in this direction. The majority of wolves were released in Arizona.

“To me it is a very scary thought,” she said. “We already deal with predators. It’s a huge problem anyway and to add another is a scary prospect. I think the governor is right. She halted reintroduction of more wolves this year, because she felt (U.S. Fish and Wildlife) did not have a good enough plan in place, that they needed more study and a more thorough plan to compensate ranchers, if they are expected to feed the wolves..”

The protest of Martinez’ decision to halt releases was organized by the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, whose representatives said they hand delivered to the governor office 5,200 signatures calling for additional wolf releases. Diversity Center officials noted that the wolf population in southwestern New Mexico and eastern Arizona includes only six breading pairs out of a population of 97, and they contend genetics problems being experienced could be solved by more releases..

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