Saturday, May 21, 2011
Wolf Proposal Raises Concern
By Rene Romo
Journal Southern Bureau
LAS CRUCES — Conservation groups are crying foul over legislation introduced last week that would remove federal protections for endangered Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and Arizona once their combined population reaches 100 for two consecutive years.
"Once again, some members of Congress are willing to put politics before science," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "Congress should not be deciding which species deserve protections and which ones do not. . . . These decisions should be based on the best available science and determined by professional wildlife managers."
The office of New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican, said Wednesday he plans to co-sponsor the bill, H.R. 1819, sponsored by Michigan Republican Rep. Candice Miller.
"This bipartisan legislation proposes a common sense, regionalized approach to the wolf," said Pearce spokesman Eric Layer. "It allows for states to manage the wolf in regions where the population is sufficient, and ends waste of taxpayer dollars in regions where it has failed."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released wolves in a national forest in southeast Arizona in 1998 under a recovery effort that was expected to produce 100 wolves in the Southwest by 2006. Federal officials say there were 50 wolves in southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico at the end of 2010, up from 42 in 2009.
Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said federal officials never established 100 wolves as a recovery goal.
Fish and Wildlife is in the early stages of developing an updated recovery plan for the Mexican gray wolf, but Robinson said the legislation, if passed, would "render recovery planning irrelevant."
Miller's bill would also allow state wildlife agencies in the northern Rockies and the western Great Lakes region to manage gray wolf populations as long as wolf numbers hit certain benchmarks.
Environmental organizations have fought efforts to remove federal protections for wolves in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, arguing that the wolf populations have not reached sufficient numbers and that states are pushing aggressive wolf-hunting programs.
A spokesman for Miller did not respond to emailed questions about how she arrived at 100 wolves for the trigger for state management of Mexican gray wolves.
Pearce has co-sponsored a bill introduced by Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg in January that would amend the Endangered Species Act so it does not apply to the gray wolf.
In February Pearce submitted an amendment, which never made it into a continuing funding resolution adopted by the House, that would have eliminated funding for the Southwest wolf program.
New Mexico Rep. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat, said of Miller's bill, "As with any species, once scientists have determined that the Mexican gray wolf has reached biological viability and is no longer endangered or threatened, I would support shifting management responsibility to state game and fish agencies. These decisions should be guided by effective science-based conservation and not partisan politics."
Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., did not respond to a request for comment.