In a unanimous vote, the New Mexico Game Commission has denied an appeal by Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch for a permit to host Mexican wolves as part of a federal species recovery program.
Thursday’s decision ends – for now – a nearly eight-month saga in which the Sierra County ranch owned by media mogul Turner tried to persuade the commission to reconsider its original denial in May, a denial that was in part driven by concerns about how the federal government was managing the reintroduction program.
The Ladder Ranch permit had been in place 17 years.
Commission members on Thursday invited the Turner Endangered Species Fund’s Mike Phillips to reapply for a permit to host wolves at the ranch.
“Today they made clear to me that they recognize that our long-standing relationship is strong, it is beneficial and that we can find a way forward,” said Phillips, the fund’s executive director. He spoke with the Journal by phone after the meeting in Santa Fe.
Historically, the Ladder Ranch, near the Gila National Forest, provided pen space for wolves being released into, or removed from, the wild by the federal government ever since the program to reintroduce the endangered Mexican wolf began in 1998.
There are no wolves at the ranch now, Phillips said.
“It sounded like they were likely to provide a permit in the future, but delay is not the friend of the Mexican wolf,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s been almost a year in which the Ladder Ranch’s facilities have been unavailable.”
The state and the federal government have been at odds over the reintroduction program.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is tasked with reintroducing wolves to the wild in Arizona and New Mexico pursuant to its obligations under the Endangered Species Act.
Last year, the state denied the agency permits to release wolves in New Mexico, citing the lack of a comprehensive recovery plan and other issues. Fish and Wildlife responded by saying it would use its federal authority to override the state if need be.
No wolves have been released in New Mexico since that exchange.
The lack of an up-to-date recovery plan for the species has been a bone of contention for the game departments of the Four Corners states.
Gov. Susana Martinez and her counterparts in Arizona, Utah and Colorado sent a letter last fall to Interior Secretary Sally Jewel and Fish and Wildlife Director Daniel Ashe demanding a new plan.
The game departments of Arizona and New Mexico are jointly suing Fish and Wildlife to get one done.
The original recovery plan dates to the 1980s, before the reintroduction program started. Fish and Wildlife has three times started an effort to write a new plan – but none has come to fruition.
Another attempt to create a recovery plan got underway in December. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Jeff Humphrey has said the agency’s goal is to develop a recovery plan that is “legally sufficient and science-based by the end of 2017.”
Phillips said he may submit a new application to host wolves at the Ladder Ranch that will aim to restart the ranch’s work and simultaneously satisfy some of the commission’s concerns with respect to wolf releases by Fish and Wildlife.