SANTA FE – With speeches, songs and occasional wolf howls, supporters of the Mexican gray wolf recovery program gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday to protest a recent decision by the state Game Commission.
The commission denied the renewal of a permit that allows Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch in Sierra County to hold wolves in pens when the federal government is releasing them into, or removing them from, the wild.
Wolf recovery supporters said that could impede the ongoing effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that has resulted in the release of more than 100 wolves.
“This decision was purely political, based on no scientific consideration whatsoever, and has the appearance of being vindictive,” targeting both Turner and the wolf, said Dave Parsons, who coordinated the federal agency’s recovery program for nine years.
One rally-goer held a sign accusing Republican Gov. Susana Martinez – who appoints the commission – of a “war on wildlife.” Protesters signed petitions asking her to reverse the decision, to support the program, and to back off on proposals regarding cougars and bears.
The Game Commission is holding hearings on proposals to expand bear hunting and to allow cougars to be trapped on public lands.
The Ladder Ranch had been permitted for the past 17 years to hold the wolves in large pens, with the permits renewed by the Game and Fish Department director. But the commission in November established a new rule requiring that such permits be OK’d by the commission itself.
The commission denied the permit on May 7.
In response to a request for comment after the rally, the Governor’s Office said the Game Commission believes the federal government’s 33-year-old wolf recovery plan is outdated.
“Especially given that the threshold for wolf reintroduction in New Mexico has been exceeded, the plan should be revisited before additional steps are taken,” said Chris Sanchez, a spokesman for Martinez.
A 1998 federal rule said the objective was to re-establish a self-sustaining population of at least 100 wolves.
But Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity says that figure was never a cap, and says newer science – the 1998 rule was based on a 1982 recovery plan – indicates that’s not enough for successful recovery.
According to a 2014 census by the Fish and Wildlife Service, there were 109 Mexican gray wolves in the wild.
There was a smaller counter-rally at the Capitol as well on Tuesday, with farmers and ranchers supporting the Game Commission and Martinez.
They said in interviews that the wolf reintroduction program threatened the livelihood of ranchers because wolves kill livestock. And they said the wolves are a threat to humans.
“We have actual experiences on the ground. … We have a livelihood” to protect, said Dalene Hodnett, president of New Mexico CowBelles . She says the wolf program is a failure that has cost taxpayers millions and “put ranching families out of business.”
Carlos Salazar, president of the Northern New Mexico Stockmen’s Association, carried a sign that said, “People Over Wolves. Protect Our Children.” He said he worries that the wolf reintroduction efforts could spread north in New Mexico and harm the livestock-raising that small ranchers count on.