Saturday, February 27, 2016

Welcome, Wolves. But Move along Quickly!

NM agrees to allow a few Mexican wolves into state, but only temporarily.

New Mexico Game Commission says wolves can stop over at Ladder Ranch before release in Old Mexico 

February 26, 2016,
By Laura Paskus
Five wolves are coming to New Mexico this spring, though their stay will be brief.

At a special meeting in Albuquerque this morning, the New Mexico Game Commission voted unanimously to approve an importation permit application submitted last month by the nonprofit Turner Endangered Species Fund. 

That special permit allows the US Fish and Wildlife Service to temporarily hold five wolves at the fund’s 156,000-acre Ladder Ranch in southwestern New Mexico.

Coming from Wolf Haven in Washington state, the wolves will then head through the Laredo border crossing to a captive facility in Mexico. Eventually, they’ll be released into the Sierra Madre, about 200 miles south of the US-Mexico border. As part of a bi-national program, Mexico is hoping to establish two populations of Mexican gray wolf in the state of Chihuahua. 

Calling into the meeting from Bozeman, Mont., the fund’s Mike Phillips explained the need to hold the animals here before their trip into Mexico: The female should not be moved during the first 30 days of gestation. 

He laid out two possible scenarios: They could be moved to New Mexico early next week and be allowed to breed at Ladder Ranch. The federal agency could then move the animals to Mexico in early April. 

Or, Phillips said, the adult pair could breed in Washington, then spend the first 30 days of the female’s gestation there. In that case, Fish and Wildlife would move the wolves to Ladder Ranch in early April and then move them to Mexico in early July, when the puppies are eight to ten weeks old.
Before the vote, Commissioner Ralph Ramos repeatedly asked Phillips to reassure commissioners the wolves will not stay in New Mexico indefinitely. 

Ramos also said that since 90 percent of the Mexican gray wolf’s historic range is in Mexico, the US recovery program really only covers the animal’s far northern range. He added that Mexico also has more favorable habitat and prey. 

“This is more their natural state, and Mexico provides better habitat,” he said. Referring to a recent dip in Mexican wolf population in the US Southwest, he added that if the data shows that Mexico is better for wolves, the feds might not have to expand the US population.

Reached via telephone after the meeting, Phillips said he was “very pleased” with the vote—and will be submitting additional permit requests. “I think we’re back to where we were before the 2015 impasse, where we were at the ready to try to use the Ladder Ranch in a manner that fits the needs of the US Fish and Wildlife Service,” he says. 

He disagrees, however, that Mexico offers better habitat than the US. Although he supports the bi-national program, he’s concerned about the lack of natural prey (as opposed to livestock) in Mexico and that country’s lack of large tracts of public lands.

While historic maps show wolves living in Mexico and wandering into the border country of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, Phillips says that genetic evidence shows wolves had previously wandered as far north as Oklahoma. 

Personally, he says, he thinks the historic view of the wolf’s range offers a “somewhat simplistic” view of distribution; he claims it was “far more dynamic.”

Phillips also says the Game Commission should be commended for its actions: “They gave us more than adequate opportunity to answer questions and concerns they had and have now moved to a new position—a much more enlightened position, with a much better understanding of what’s involved—and have recognized there is a role for New Mexico in Mexican gray wolf recovery.”

By calling a special meeting, rather than waiting until their regular meeting in mid-April, when it would have been too late to decide on the fate of the wolves currently in Washington, he says that commissioners have shown a willingness to work together.

“They convened in special session and allowed me to participate over the phone,” he says. “If that’s not evidence of accommodation, of trying to do good governance on purpose, I don’t know what is.”
Next, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Director Alexa Sandoval will decide which of the two scenarios for moving the wolves into New Mexico will be implemented. 

Officials with the USFWS Mexican Wolf Recovery Program could not be reached for comment on Friday morning.