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State says it will sue U.S. Fish and Wildlife over wolf release plan











SANTA FE — New Mexico officials notified the federal government today they will sue to block the planned release of more Mexican gray wolves without the state’s OK.

The state Department of Game and Fish called the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s release plan “unpermitted and illegal” and said it will go to court unless the federal agency backs down.

The state department last year denied the federal agency’s application to release wolves into the wild. But the Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced it planned to release a pack of wolves this year and also could place some captive-born pups into wild packs, in a bid to improve genetic diversity.

“The department cannot stand idle and allow the USFWS to ignore the laws and regulations of New Mexico, just as the department does not allow others to do so,” Game and Fish spokesman Lance Cherry said in a statement.

The “Notice of Intent to Sue” filed by a California law firm representing Game and Fish says the federal agency failed to comply with a provision of the Endangered Species Act that requires cooperation “to the maximum extent practicable” with states. It also alleges that USFWS would violate state law with the release.

Game and Fish’s Cherry said the department has had a “long-standing and proud tradition of responsible recovery of wildlife species in New Mexico. Recovery efforts cannot be successful without the support of all impacted stakeholders.”

A spokesman in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest regional office, John Bradley, said Wednesday the agency would not comment on pending litigation.

But in October, after the state Game Commission finalized the state’s denial of permits to the USFWS, the federal agency told state officials in a letter that it had “no option except to continue to move forward.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service “needs to improve the genetic diversity and reduce the kinship of the Mexican wolves in the wild to achieve recovery” and has the independent legal authority to do so, wrote Director Daniel Ashe .

The federal agency has gotten state permission for wolf releases in the past, but the relationship has soured under Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Her appointed Game Commission affirmed the department last year when it objected that there is no updated wolf recovery plan in place. The department contends a 2015 federal rule — expanding the wolf population objective and broadening wolf territory — is an interim measure, not a recovery plan.

Wolf recovery advocates, meanwhile, complained Wednesday that Fish and Wildlife has ordered a 2-year-old male wolf removed from the Gila National Forest for killing cattle. The Center for Biological Diversity says only 97 wolves were counted in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona in January, down from 110 the previous year. It says the wolf was drawn to cattle because the remains of cows that died from other causes were left around by ranchers.

“Mexican wolves are unfairly penalized because ranchers are not required to eliminate the lure of carrion,” said the center’s Michael Robinson.