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Commenters object to updated wolf recovery plan

Supporters of Mexican gray wolf reintroduction stage a protest outside of the Crowne Plaza hotel in Albuquerque before a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service public meeting on Saturday. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Most of the howls heard at a public information meeting on the Mexican gray wolf hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Saturday afternoon were from environmental groups saying a recently released updated recovery plan for the subspecies doesn’t go far enough to protect it.

“Why is it that the needs of the Mexican gray wolf, in the program that’s for their purpose, are largely not met?” a Tularosa man asked a panel of three FWS officials.

“What we’re trying to do with the recovery of the New Mexican gray wolf is to find a balance,” responded Sherry Barrett, the FWS Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator. “It’s difficult when you’re re-establishing a top carnivore on a working landscape.”

Around 75 people, many wearing lime green T-shirts emblazoned with, “Wolves Without Boundaries,” attended the meeting at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Albuquerque to listen to information about the plan and ask questions of those who wrote it.

Although most of the opinions represented were from supporters of wolf reintroduction, their concerns sometimes reflected those on both sides of the debate.

Mexico’s involvement in the recovery process was mentioned several times throughout the two-hour question and answer session.

Don Jones gives a howl as pro-wolf protesters stand outside the Crowne Plaza hotel ahead of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service public meeting on an updated recovery plan. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The draft of the recovery plan stipulates that the population of wolves in Mexico, currently at 28, must increase to 170 before delisting can occur.

“Why does our plan rely so heavily on Mexico?” asked Donna Corcoran, adding that the country recently shifted much of its funds allocated to species recovery to the critically endangered vaquita porpoise, of which there are fewer than 30 left in the wild.

Barrett acknowledged that Mexico is “having some financial issues right now,” but he said they are looking for other sources of funding and remain committed to the wolf’s recovery.

She cited the ocelot and Sonoran pronghorn as examples of successful cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico to protect endangered species.

Many participants also voiced concerns over New Mexico’s Department of Game and Fish’s “veto power” over the release program.

Game and Fish left the Mexican gray wolf’s Interagency Field Team in 2011, leaving FWS to largely administer the recovery program in the state.

Last year, the state sued FWS to block them from releasing wolves in the state.

“I’ve been to many New Mexico Game and Fish meetings,” said Albuquerque resident Brenda McKenna. “I simply don’t have any confidence at all that they can be a steward of the Mexican wolf.”

Barrett said the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has worked with FWS for the majority of the time Mexican wolf recovery efforts have been underway and the agency prefers to collaborate with states in cases like this one.

“We think this program has a high chance of success,” Barrett said.

Public comment on the plan will close Aug. 29, and the plan will be finalized by Nov. 30.

Robyn Richards of Albuquerque asks a question about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’s proposed recovery plan for the Mexican gray wolf during Saturday’s public meeting. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)