In an effort to thwart the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service removed the department’s application to temporarily halt future Mexican wolf releases into New Mexico from state to federal court late Friday, May 13.
Just the day before – Thursday, May 12 – the state’s Game and Fish Department sought a temporary restraining order in the 7th Judicial District Court in Socorro requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to comply with state and federal laws, obligating them to obtain state authorization before releasing wildlife, including Mexican gray wolves, in New Mexico.
Although originally filed in District Court, the application has been moved to the U.S. District Court in Las Cruces.
The department’s application alleges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ignored state and federal laws last month by importing and releasing two Mexican wolves without first obtaining required state permits. “Although we anticipated this move,” Department Director Alexandra Sandoval said in a press release. “We believe recent actions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violate state and federal law. A review of the state law violations certainly belongs in state court. Regardless of venue, we are committed to pursuing this matter.”
Under New Mexico law, the importation and release of non-domesticated animals requires a permit from the department and federal law instructs the federal agency to consult with the states and obtain necessary permits before releasing wildlife. “The USFWS decision to move forward with unpermitted and illegal releases of wildlife into New Mexico demonstrates a disregard for our state’s sovereignty,” Sandoval said. “We have a responsibility to uphold the laws of our state and ensure the USFWS complies with applicable state and federal law. We intend to take those actions necessary to ensure adherence.”
Under New Mexico law, the importation and release of non-domesticated animals requires a permit from the department and federal law instructs the USFWS to obtain that permit before releasing wildlife. “The recent and planned releases of Mexican wolves in New Mexico by the USFWS violate these laws,” the Game and Fish press release stated.
Additionally, section 6 of the Endangered Species Act requires the USFWS to “cooperate to the maximum extent practicable with the states.” Congressmen on both sides of the aisle in 1973 envisioned that this cooperative statutory mandate would be “the most important section” and “the major backbone of the act.”
Game and Fish says it seeks to hold the USFWS accountable to the principles of cooperative federalism embodied in the Endangered Species Act.
In the context of the Mexican wolf, the absence of a current, non-interim recovery plan, coupled with ongoing releases, undermines the department’s ability to manage a landscape of wildlife resources.
“The department cannot stand idle when its authority and ability to manage the State’s resources is threatened,” the press release said. “The department prefers to work with the USFWS toward recovery of endangered species, within a species’ historical range,” Sandoval said. “This is difficult to do without the guidance of a legally sufficient, science-based recovery plan that clearly articulates recovery criteria.”
In April, the department offered dispute resolution as an avenue to address positional differences. On Monday, May 9, the department met with representatives from the USFWS and attorneys from the United States Department of Justice. At this meeting, the department offered alternative solutions to resolve this matter. On May 11 the department received notification from the USFWS declining all of the proposed solutions.