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NM OKs wolves at Turner ranch as stopover to Mexico

One of the many Mexican gray wolves that have spent time in pens on Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch in south-central New Mexico. (Albuquerque Journal File Photo)

One of the many Mexican gray wolves that have spent time in pens on Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch in south-central New Mexico. (Albuquerque Journal File Photo)

SANTA FE, N.M. — The state Game and Fish Commission on Friday unanimously approved a request by the Turner Endangered Species Fund to import and temporarily hold five Mexican gray wolves at Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch in south-central New Mexico.

The wolves are being transported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from Wolf Haven International, a wolf sanctuary in Washington state, to a facility in Mexico. The stop at the Ladder Ranch, which would be over as soon as early April or as late as mid July, is intended to give the wolves a respite from travel-related stress.

Stewart Liley, chief of wildlife for the Game and Fish Department, said that historically the range of Mexican wolves is 90 percent in Mexico and 10 percent in the corners of the states of New Mexico and Arizona. He said transporting the five wolves is in support of Mexico’s fledgling wolf recovery program and the theory that three wolf populations – two in Mexico and one in New Mexico and Arizona – is necessary for sustaining the species.

The Fish and Wildlife Service reported earlier this month that the gray wolf population in New Mexico and Arizona is 97, down from 110 a year ago. The population in Mexico is believed to be between 12 and 17.

“I like the fact the wolves are being introduced into a more historical range,” Commissioner Ralph Ramos said.

Commission Chairman Paul Kienzle agreed.

“I think this is a step in the right direction,” Kienzle said. “I am comfortable in supporting this.”

Kienzle moved to approve the permit with the provision that it may be reviewed by Game and Fish Department Director Alexandra Sandoval if the wolves’ stay at the Ladder Ranch exceeds the timetable discussed.

The permit request was the only item on the agenda at Friday’s special commission meeting at the Albuquerque Marriott.

Friday’s action follows a surprise move by the commission last spring to deny the Ladder Ranch’s permit, which had been in effect since 1988, to aid the U.S. government’s Mexican wolf recovery program by providing pen space for wolves being released into, or temporarily removed from, the wild by the federal government.

In January, the commission denied the Ladder Ranch’s appeal of that decision but invited the ranch to reapply for a permit to host wolves.

The commission’s denial in January was prompted to a degree by the commission’s dissatisfaction with the federal Fish and Wildlife Department’s wolf-recovery plan.

“I don’t have a problem with the Ladder Ranch,” Ramos said after Friday’s meeting. “I think they are doing a good job. I’m concerned about Fish and Wildlife. They need to get that recovery plan completed.”

Mike Phillips, director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, participated in Friday’s meeting via telephone speaker from Bozeman, Mont. He explained there were two plans for moving the wolves from Washington to the Ladder Ranch, then on to Mexico. He said the different timetables had to do with the fact there is a breeding pair among the five wolves.

“Breeding time is very soon,” Phillips said. “We don’t want to move the female wolf during the first 30 days of gestation.”

He said plan A is to move the wolves to the Ladder Ranch next week, then on to Mexico before the pups are born. Plan B is to move the wolves to the Ladder in early April, then on to Mexico in July after the pups are born.

Liley told the commission that he had visited the Ladder Ranch recently and that the ranch had made some changes to its facility that were suggested by the commission – such as doing away with man-made dens that could acclimate wolves to unnatural habitat. He said, too, that he is confident the Ladder Ranch facility is sufficiently secure to hold wolves.

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