The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday that allegations of mismanagement of the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program contained in a recent federal report were effectively addressed prior to the investigation and all other claims in the report had “no validity.”
Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, Southwest regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, acknowledged that the program had management issues with senior leadership in the past, but he said the service was made aware of this by “multiple sources” and “then executed an appropriate and proper solution” by moving the manager to an administrative role, according to an agency statement.
“Other allegations in the report were thoroughly reviewed by OIG [Office of Inspector General] and regional leadership, but there was no validity to those claims,” he said.
The Interior Department released a report last week that addressed issues with how the Fish and Wildlife Service had dealt with residents in Western New Mexico’s Catron County, the area most affected by Mexican gray wolf releases in the Gila Wilderness.
Residents interviewed for the report, including livestock owners in the area, said the service had failed to effectively communicate with the community about the presence or threat posed by wolves in the area, failed to fully compensate ranchers for livestock losses as a result of predatory wolves and did not record or effectively respond to nuisance complaints filed about wolves. Residents also alleged that the service had deliberately disposed of slaughtered livestock without alerting the ranchers.
The service contradicted these claims Thursday, saying that it notifies ranchers about dead livestock, conducts investigations into the cause of death on request and alerts residents to wolf locations through biweekly flights over the management range. The service said ranchers have been compensated entirely for loses since 2011, with the exception of two who warranted lower payments according to the Mexican Wolf/Livestock Council, which directs compensation to producers for depredations. The service acknowledges that there were failures in fully compensating ranchers prior to 2011.
“The OIG report validates that we were responsive to shortcomings in the field program in 2013 and that we’re on the right track in improving our coordination with residents and livestock producers of Catron County,” Tuggle said.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-Hobbs, had called for a congressional investigation at the behest of Catron County residents. He called the report “damning.”
Of the service, Pearce said last week, “Their problems are much bigger than one employee and extend to the highest levels of the agency.” His spokeswoman Megan Wells reiterated Thursday that Pearce still believes the agency’s denials further harm New Mexicans.
The congressman added an amendment to a House appropriations bill last week that, if signed into law, would cut all funding from the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program, saying the service had “consistently proven its inability to manage” it.
The Obama administration and environmental advocates strongly objected to the amendment.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., told The New Mexican this week that the anti-environmental language in the bill was part of a “pattern of very problematic anti-conservation riders,” over the last few years in the House. He said he would be working with U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., to ensure those amendments are removed from the final bill.