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Conservationists Want Probe Into Reports of Wolf Baiting


Associated Press
      
    SILVER CITY — Conservation groups want the Interior secretary to order an investigation by the inspector general into allegations that a Mexican gray wolf was baited into killing a cow so the wolf in turn could be killed.
    Representatives of 15 conservationist and environmental groups, in a letter dated Thursday to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, said an investigation should be launched into the possibility the wolf was killed through abuse of government-provided telemetry radio receivers and by ranchers taking advantage of a rule that requires removal of any wolf that kills three head of livestock within a year.
    Kempthorne's office could not immediately comment until officials had seen the letter.
    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been looking into a December report in High Country News — an online, independent biweekly news magazine — that quoted an employee of Adobe-Slash Ranch in Catron County, Mike Miller, as saying, "We would sacrifice a calf to get a third strike.'' The article alleged ranch hands branded cattle near the wolf's den.
    Miller denied the allegations in the article, written by contributing editor John Dougherty. High Country News editor Jonathan Thompson said the magazine stands by its story.
    The conservation groups also asked for an investigation by law enforcement, with prosecution if warranted.
    They also asked that radio telemetry receivers "that may be used to facilitate illegal baiting'' be taken away. Telemetry receivers let ranchers know where certain radio-collared wolves are.
    "The high rate of wolf poaching and suspicious disappearances strongly suggests that the federal take of wolves, the telemetry receivers and other substantial steps taken by the (Fish and Wildlife) Service to conciliate the livestock industry have not resulted in reducing illegal take — they may have contributed to the opposite result,'' the letter said.
    The letter also asked Kempthorne to order any trapped wolves that might have been baited to be released back into the wild.
    In the letter to Kempthorne, the groups ask that investigators determine when Fish and Wildlife became aware of the possibility of baiting on the Adobe-Slash Ranch, whether wolves removed from the wild for livestock kills after the agency became aware of the allegations and whether the agency took steps to ensure telemetry equipment and codes were not available to those who might use them to illegally take wolves.
    The groups, in separate letters Thursday to Southwest Regional Forester Corbin Newman and Bureau of Land Management New Mexico State Director Linda Rundell, requested the cancellation of grazing and outfitting permits for anyone found to have baited wolves.
    After the allegations surfaced last month, representatives of environmental organizations in New Mexico and Arizona called for the Catron County ranch's grazing leases to be suspended.
    The groups also want Kempthorne to review the three-strikes rule to see whether it encourages wolf baiting so wolves can be removed. Wolves that fall under the three-strikes rule are removed from the wild either by shooting or through capture and permanent captivity.


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