Federal wolf plan called off for now; After opposition voiced, proposal being re-evaluated
By Todd Wildermuth, Editor
After receiving comments from a variety of local governments, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has halted the process under which it was looking to implement a management plan for a growing number of wolves that are expected to eventually migrate into a three-state region that includes northeast New Mexico.

The proposed plan — which drew strong criticism from Colfax County ranchers during a Jan. 22 hearing held by the county commission to gather input for a county submittal to federal officials regarding the wolf plan — was withdrawn and the Fish and Wildlife Service is “re-evaluating the proposal,” according to Jonathan Olson, a senior environmental planning consultant for the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program.

Olson told The Range that federal officials still believe it is best to have a management plan in place to deal with whatever conflicts may arise between ranchers and migrating wolves in the future in order to provide means to handle wolves that may affect ranching operations and other property issues, as well as to protect the southwestern gray wolves that are listed as an endangered species. He said, however, there is no specific timetable to present a new proposed action plan. In fact, he added, he does not know if the Fish and Wildlife Service will develop a new proposed plan regarding the wolves.

Olson said the current re-evaluation of the proposal was a response to the comments received from federal and state agencies, local governments — such as counties — and Indian tribes in the area covered by the proposed plan. The proposal covered all of Arizona and New Mexico, plus west Texas. Colfax County Manager Don Day said he did not get a chance to submit the comments from the Jan. 22 hearing before the county received a Feb. 11 letter from the Fish and Wildlife Service informing the county of the federal decision to “withdraw the proposed action at this time.”

Day informed the commission of the federal decision at last week’s commission meeting and added the county should continue to “keep an eye on” the issue. The commission had promised that the county would share the ranchers’ concerns with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and take any other steps it can to keep predatory wolves from negatively impacting the local livestock industry. In addition, the county commission agenda for March 12 includes discussion and possible action regarding sending a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service requesting “Cooperating Agency status on all matters of mutual concern.”

Olson said the responses received by the federal agency showed “a lot of misinterpretation” of the plan, including some entities and people believing the agency wanted to intentionally reintroduce the gray wolves into the region. He said the proposed Southwestern Gray Wolf Management Plan was to address situations that might occur as wolves from other areas — specifically Mexico and the Northern Rockies — naturally migrate into the Southwest. The plan contained detailed, multiple-layered standards and procedures by which a wolf could be deemed a “problem” wolf for attacking livestock or pets or coming too close to humans, and how that wolf would be dealt with.

But at the Jan. 22 county hearing, several area ranchers presented a unanimous anti-wolf sentiment, saying the plan protected the wolves more than ranchers and other property owners. The speakers at the hearing called for property owners to be able to kill — without restriction — wolves that cause problems to livestock or other property.

County officials are currently working on revising a 2008 county ordinance that states opposition to wolves being intentionally reintroduced into the county. The revised ordinance would add opposition to any federal protections for wolves naturally migrating into the county as well.

The proposed federal plan that was withdrawn would have limited wolf killing to instances that involved “human health and safety.” To address wolves that became a problem to ranchers and other property owners, the plan relied mainly on relocation of the animals. To initiate consideration of labeling a particular wolf a problem, the wolf would have had to first been responsible for at least two instances of depredation on livestock within six months, been part of a pack responsible for at least two livestock depredation instances within six months, depredated domestic animals or pets at least twice within six months, or become habituated to humans, human residences or other facilities, according to the proposal, which also required “clear evidence” show that a wolf was responsible for the damage.

 
 


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