Saturday, May 16, 2015

Advocates ask governor to help Turner ranch reobtain wolf permit

Posted: Friday, May 15, 2015
Forty-six conservation groups from around the country have united in a campaign aimed at returning the real New Mexico lobos — endangered Mexican wolves — to billionaire Ted Turner’s ranch in the southern part of the state.
The New Mexico Game Commission earlier this month voted to deny a permit that would have allowed Turner’s Ladder Ranch to continue as a refuge for the federally protected subspecies of the gray wolf.
That decision prompted conservation organizations and wolf-breeding centers to send a letter to Gov. Susana Martinez on Friday. They want her to intervene to persuade the Game Commission that it should reverse itself and restore the permit for a wolf recovery center on Turner’s ranch.

“We find it odd and inappropriate for state government to interfere with philanthropic activities conducted responsibly by a private landowner on private lands to offset expenses that otherwise would be borne by taxpayers,” the letter says.

Since 1998, Turner’s 157,000-acre ranch had served as a haven for Mexican wolves. The ranch, near Truth or Consequences, includes five pens that can hold as many as 25 wolves, and it served as a station for wolves released into or removed from the wild.

The seven game commissioners on May 7 voted unanimously to deny the permit for wolf-holding operations on Turner’s ranch. Their decision came as numbers of the endangered subspecies were inching higher. The Mexican wolf’s population in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona increased to 109 last year from 83 in 2013.

Elizabeth Ryan, a Game Commission member from Roswell, said she and her colleagues don’t support the Mexican wolf recovery program as it stands.

She said the commission has received many complaints from ranchers who say the wolves threatened their livestock and livelihood.

The problem, Ryan said, is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the wolves from Turner’s ranch into the Gila National Forest. From there, the wolves could roam onto private ranchers’ land.
“It’s just keep releasing, keep releasing, and they could not address the devastation of livestock,” Ryan said in a telephone interview Friday. “Because they can’t answer any of those questions, that’s why we don’t support the recovery program.”

In the past, the ranch’s permit had been issued by the director of the state’s Department of Game and Fish. But a recently changed rule required that permits used in reintroduction of mammalian carnivores to be approved by the commissioners, who are appointed by the governor.

Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said the Mexican wolf is a subspecies fighting for survival. “Gov. Martinez should tell her game commission to quit playing politics and allow Ted Turner to continue his critically important work helping to recover the endangered Mexican gray wolf,” Robinson said in a statement. “Reintroduction requires many helping hands, and it’s shameful that there are impeding hands as well.”
Martinez’s spokesman on Friday did not respond to a question about whether the governor would consider asking the game commission to restore the wolf permit for Turner’s ranch.

The Mexican wolf was added to the federal endangered species list in 1976. It wasn’t until 1998 that the first captive-bred wolves were released into the wild. Turner’s ranch began accepting wolves that same year in an attempt to help their population grow.