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Editorial: Wolf recovery plan based on reason, compromise

It’s doubtful that people with extreme views on either side of the Mexican gray wolf recovery plan will be satisfied, but a decision earlier this month by the state Game Commission to approve the new federal wolf recovery plan strikes a blow for reason and compromise.

The state in recent years, with the support of ranchers and over the objections of some environmental and wildlife groups, has been locked in a legal struggle seeking to block expanded recovery efforts put forward by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There were some good reasons for that resistance to a laudable goal, including that the federal government kept moving the goalposts as to what constituted recovery, expanding the territory needed to accomplish it and essentially telling rural New Mexicans they needed to cheerfully go along even if they had concerns about livestock predation and in some cases personal safety.

The state went to court last year seeking to block the release of five additional wolves in New Mexico, and that litigation is still pending. Meanwhile, Defenders of Wildlife and others sued U.S. Fish and Wildlife asking that the court order the federal agency to create a new recovery plan – because the old plan hadn’t been formally updated since 1982.

But during a meeting last week, the logjam may have been broken.

The state Game Commission approved the new U.S. Fish and Wildlife wolf recovery plan, which includes measurable recovery criteria, biological and legal considerations.

“Key to our support is that consideration of the historical range of the Mexican wolf is taken into account, recognizing that approximately 90 percent of the subspecies’ historical habitat exists in Mexico,” the commission said.

That’s an important point, and one that is grounded in law, even though some environmental groups have tried to argue it should not apply – effectively placing the entire analysis and burden on people living on this side of the border.

The state commission last week also approved Fish and Wildlife permits to allow the cross-fostering of up to 12 pups in New Mexico in 2018 and for some pups to be moved into captivity in New Mexico from Arizona to promote genetic diversity of the wolf.

Bryan Bird, director of the Southwest Program for Defenders of Wildlife, called the developments encouraging and said they would “assist us in moving cooperatively forward with the state of New Mexico.”

Recovery of the Mexican gray wolf is a worthwhile endeavor with strong public support. But people matter, too, and the state Department of Game and Fish has worked to represent them.

The new plan reflects compromise and science, and the hope of a new relationship that values both ranchers and wolves.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.