ALBUQUERQUE — The federal government cannot release another dozen or so Mexican gray wolves into the wilds of southwestern New Mexico, the State Game Commission decided Tuesday during a raucous public meeting.
In a 7-0 vote, commissioners rejected the federal government’s appeal of a decision by state Game and Fish Department Director Alexandra Sandoval prohibiting the wolf reintroduction.
Spectators reacted with catcalls aimed at the commissioners. “No surprise! Shameful!” they said as the vote was announced.
In June, Sandoval rejected a federal permit for the Mexican wolf program because she said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lacked a detailed plan to release up to 10 captive Mexican wolves in the Gila National Forest, leaving her without enough information on what effects the predators would have on elk and deer populations. The federal agency disputes her characterization.
Small numbers of captive Mexican gray wolves have been placed in the wild since 1998. They are the most endangered subspecies of wolf, with a population of 109 in the wilderness of two states, New Mexico and Arizona.
Sherry Barrett, the Mexican wolf coordinator at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said her agency would continue with recovery efforts of the Mexican gray wolf despite the Game Commission’s decision. But she didn’t elaborate in an interview with The New Mexican on what that means or what specific actions could be taken.
Barrett told commissioners the population of wild Mexican gray wolves “may not be recoverable” if her agency is unable to reintroduce the animals as it planned.
She said lack of genetic diversity in the pool of wild wolves makes them vulnerable, but she predicted a 10 percent population increase annually if the recovery program proceeds. Barrett said genetics of the captive population are more diverse than those of wild wolves, which are more prone to inbreeding because their numbers are so small.
People are the reason the subspecies is in trouble, according to Barrett and others supporting the release of more Mexican gray wolves.
“It was eradicated from the wild as a result of intolerance from humans,” Barrett said.
Game Commissioner Elizabeth Ryan of Roswell said she and her colleagues could only overturn the director’s decision on the wolf permit if they found it arbitrary and capricious.
“We’re not here to make a value-based decision. We’re here to look at whether the director’s decision was reasonable or rational,” she said.
Someone in the audience shouted “scumbags” amid jeering when Ryan made a motion to affirm the director’s denial of the permit.
Paul Kienzle of Albuquerque, chairman of the commission, said he had concerns about wolves co-existing with people and livestock. He referenced one wolf that was shot and killed, saying “that was a problem animal that was ultimately put down.”
After the vote, opponents of the commission’s decision emptied the 143-capacity room at the Embassy Suites, tempers boiling. One woman loudly cursed the commissioners and called them “subsidized ranchers.”
She and other advocates of reintroducing the Mexican gray wolf have accused the commissioners, appointed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, of bowing to the interests of the agriculture industry. Ranchers say the predators threaten their livestock and their safety.
Michael Robinson, of the Center for Biological Diversity, an advocacy group, said the U.S. government should simply proceed with its wolf recovery program in spite of the State Game Commission.
After the meeting, Lory Slade, who supports releasing more wolves into the wild, said she moved to the Las Cruces area to be close to the Mexican gray wolf.
“I just wish someone would listen to us,” she said.
Justin Horwath can be reached at 986-3017 or email@example.com.