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Feds and states clash over Mexican wolf management


You don’t expect a report from the Interior Department’s inspector general to be interesting, let alone insightful, but the newly released Investigative Report of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mexican Wolf Program manages to be both. The 17-page report was ordered by U.S. Rep. Steven Pearce, R-N.M., on behalf of Catron County, to investigate alleged misconduct by federal staff overseeing the recovery of the endangered Mexican wolf. It reads like the transcript of a marriage mediation session — one that failed.

Catron County’s ranching community plays the unhappy wife, who never wanted to have Mexican wolves in the first place. She believes her husband, Fish and Wildlife, only loves her for her habitat, and has deliberately ignored the danger wolves pose to people, concealed information about their whereabouts, clandestinely removed evidence of wolf-killed livestock, and failed to compensate her for losses. Oh, he’s also a bleeding-heart animal lover, whose staff and volunteers “were seen crying when one of the wolves in the program had to be killed.”

The husband claims that he has bent over backwards to accommodate his wife’s extreme lupophobia. There are no documented cases of wolf attacks in the Southwest, he says, and he’s only withheld information to protect the wolves from possible abuse. As one federal leader told investigators, “Some staff might have been apprehensive about speaking with ranchers they considered ‘mean.’ ”

The report seems to lead to one conclusion: Due to irreconcilable differences, this partnership is doomed, and so is the Mexican wolf. But that’s not what contributing editor Cally Carswell finds reporting this issue’s cover story. The wolves are too closely related, and without new blood, they could eventually struggle to reproduce. Unfortunately, some of the most genetically diverse individuals have been killed because of conflicts with ranchers. Wolves raised in contained breeding facilities sometimes have trouble adapting to life in a vast landscape — especially one filled with cows.

Executive Director and Publisher Paul Larmer

Despite this, some progress is being made to reduce tensions: The Mexican Wolf/Livestock Coexistence Council, which includes ranchers and conservationists, was formed a few years ago, and, though underfunded, is helping by better compensating ranchers for livestock losses. But the relationship clearly needs a fresh start.

In April, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service committed to publishing new vows in the form of a revised recovery plan by November 2017. That’s good news, biologist Mike Phillips told Carswell, but steadfast implementation will be even more critical, along with “a willingness to accept that no matter what you do, some people are going to be frustrated about this, some people are going to be frustrated about that. You’re the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; that’s the way it is.” It will never be a perfect marriage, but there’s still a chance to save it.