SANTA FE, N.M. — No public comment was officially permitted Tuesday during the state Game Commission’s review and subsequent denial of an appeal seeking to release Mexican gray wolves into the New Mexico wild this year.
But that didn’t prevent a vocal public reaction to the commission’s decision to uphold the state Game and Fish Department’s rejection of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s request.
“No surprise,” called out one of the dozens of wildlife advocates crowded into the Embassy Suites Conference Center in Albuquerque. “Disgraceful,” others shouted, as well as, “You should be ashamed” and “You’re discredited.”
Members of Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, Bold Visions Conservation, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Southwest Environmental Center and others who support additional reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf in the state turned out in force. Before the meeting, many of them assembled outside the hotel carrying signs reading “We Need Wolves” and “More Wolves, Less Politics.”
None of that had any effect on the commission, which voted unanimously to support Game and Fish Department Director Alexandra Sandoval’s denial of Fish and Wildlife’s release request.
Matthias L. Sayer, general counsel for Game and Fish, said Sandoval’s denial of the permit was not a value judgment but based on the fact the department did not know how many wolves would be released or where they would be set loose.
“Without that information, the director cannot be sure the release will not conflict with (Game Commission) policy,” Sayer said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department indicated it does not need the state’s approval to pursue its Mexican wolf recovery program.
Sherry Barrett, Mexican wolf coordinator for Fish and Wildlife, represented the federal agency during the appeal hearing. She provided the Journal with a written statement that says, in part, “It is our policy to consult with the states and comply with state permit requirements except in instances where the Secretary of the Interior determines that such compliance would prevent (Fish and Wildlife) carrying out our statutory responsibilities.”
After Tuesday’s meeting, Barrett told the Journal that the Fish and Wildlife Service will discuss its options in internal meetings and that one of those options is releasing the wolves into the Gila without New Mexico’s permission.
The Fish and Wildlife Service request had two parts: the placement of up to 10 Mexican wolf pups into active dens in the Gila National Forest so they might be raised by surrogate parents and the release two adult wolves and their pups into the Gila.
Barrett told the Game Commission the releases were not about increasing the wolf population, now about 110 animals in New Mexico and Arizona, but about improving the wolves’ genetic health. She said releases of genetically desirable wolves are vital to the genetic robustness of the wolves.
“We very much hope the Fish and Wildlife Service will proceed with releases into the Gila,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Mexican wolf is a beautiful, intelligent, social animal that despite rising numbers in recent years is still on the brink of extinction. That’s why Fish and Wildlife should release more wolves now.”
In another matter Tuesday, State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn appeared before the Game Commission to make clear his reasons for raising the one-year fee for hunter access to the state trust lands, administered by his office, from $200,000 to $1 million.
Dunn told the commission his job is to lease state trust lands to benefit schools, universities, hospitals and other public institutions.
“I do not work to please hunters, anglers, ranchers, oil and gas producers, miners, the Game Department or any other users of state trust lands, for that matter,” Dunn said. “I make decisions based on what is fair and what is best for the trust.
“I believe a fair access fee is an increase of $800,000. This money would go directly to public education.”
The Game and Fish Department and the State Land Office still are negotiating the fee, but on Tuesday, Dunn did not appear willing to offer much wiggle room.