Friday, January 18, 2013

County considering federal wolf management plan; Commission schedules public hearing before potential action


Federal officials think gray wolves, similar to this one, may migrate into areas throughout New Mexico in the future, including the Carson National Forest in the northern part of the state. That forest stretches into western Colfax County. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo
By Todd Wildermuth, Editor
• Fri, Jan 18, 2013

Colfax County officials plan to gather public input at a hearing Tuesday and then consider if they want to take any action regarding the federal government’s effort to establish a management plan that would dictate how gray wolves would be handled should they migrate into this area.

Unlike a project 14 years ago when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released 11 Mexican gray wolves to try to reintroduce the species into southwest New Mexico and southeast Arizona, the agency is currently developing a plan that “does not address the release or reintroduction of wolves, but rather the management of wolves that naturally disperse into, or recolonize” portions of Arizona, New Mexico and western Texas, areas where they are listed as an endangered species.

The goal of the Southwestern Gray Wolf Management Plan, according to the current draft, “is to describe various management options and develop an appropriate strategy to conserve and enhance the survival and propagation of the gray wolf.”

Among the objectives listed in the plan is to “provide the means necessary to respond to wolf conflicts with humans.” Those means would include “aversive conditioning, trapping, darting, translocation, and removal associated with wolf nuisance scenarios” and “depredations,” which are wolf attacks on livestock or other animals.

It is the potential damage to livestock that highlighted the county commission’s decision in 2000 to adopt a resolution opposing the reintroduction of wolves in Colfax County. In 2008, the commission passed an ordinance stating a similar position and making it a crime in the county to import predatory wolves.

The ordinance was designed to be what county officials and area ranchers called a “strong statement” against having wolves re-established in the county. The ordinance’s enforcement potential, though, would likely be limited or powerless against federal decisions and actions.

The Mexican government released wolves in central and northern Mexico in 2011 and 2012, prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to speculate that those “wolves may naturally disperse” into Southwestern states. In addition, the agency says wolves could also come to New Mexico and neighboring states from the northern Rocky Mountains where earlier wolf reintroduction projects have taken place.

The Southwestern Gray Wolf Management Plan is being developed in response to the possibility that new gray wolves — including the subspecies Mexican gray wolf — may show up in many parts of New Mexico, Arizona and west Texas in the future.

The plan establishes three “management zones” across the trio of states, with Zone 1 including northern New Mexico. Within that zone is the Carson National Forest that extends into western Colfax County. According to the plan, Fish and Wildlife officials have labeled much of the western side of Colfax County as a “potential natural recolonization area” for the gray wolf.

Being listed as endangered in the Southwest “requires that wolves be managed to achieve recovery so that it can eventually be removed from the endangered species list,” the plan says.

However, the county’s 2008 ordinance says the livestock industry is “vital” to the county and the release of certain predators, such as the wolf, into the county will have a “negative impact” on that industry and the county’s economy. The ordinance names as predators that may not be brought into the county several varieties of wolves, as well as the brown bear, grizzly bear, the lynx and the jaguar.

The Fish and Wildlife plan indicates that from among any wolves that migrate to new areas of New Mexico, Arizona and west Texas, the ones that exhibit the most desirable behavior, as determined by wildlife officials, will be “the building blocks of the population in these areas. These wolves should cause little or no conflict with people. Animals that habitually kill cattle or interact near human residences are not desirable for use in establishing or enhancing wolf populations. Therefore, wolves that are chronic problem wolves and either consistently direct their hunting behavior toward livestock or are attracted to human residences may be non-lethally removed from the population if their behavior warrants such action.”

The county’s public hearing on the federal wolf management plan is to take place at the commission’s Tuesday meeting that begins at 9 a.m. in the county building at 200 N. Third St. in Raton.

A link to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwestern Gray Wolf Management Plan is found on the main page of Colfax County’s website at www.co.colfax.nm.us.

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