To The Point

by Caren Cowan

The Truth Hurts . . . Misinformation would be laughable if it didn’t hurt more

At press time it is believed that yet another pair of wolves will be released — if they are not already — in the immediate future in the Gila. Following the rule that no “naive” wolves may be released in New Mexico, these wolves have a “past.”

It might be time to go back and revisit why no “naive” wolves can be released in the state. It was a hard lesson in underestimating the ability of the government to twist virtually anything into what with fits their vision.

In the 1990s the wolf introduction topic heated up in New Mexico and Arizona. Of course ranchers in each state were vehemently opposed — that hasn’t change. It was the governors and/or the game commissions who had different ideas. New Mexico just said NO. Arizona on the other hand said yes. I think their theory was that if they were a part of the program, they might have some say in it.

Some of that has proven true in that the Arizona Fish & Game Department is deeply involved in the program and is even the repository website for actions in the program.

In light of New Mexico’s negatory on the wolf, the federal government simply waited until there were “nuisance” wolves in Arizona. The management plan did outline measures that could be taken in the event that the animals became a nuisance. A “nuisance” wolf is one that has bad habits like killing cattle, horses, dogs and cats or hangs around populated areas like barns, yards and highways.

When it became clear that wolves were going to have to be re-located, the feds simply wrote and environmental assessment (EA) that they tiered to the original environmental impact statement (EIS). They accepted comments on the EA for the minimum time allowed and hauled wolves to New Mexico the day after the comment period closed. So much for evaluation of public participation and just saying NO.

I hadn’t considered the semblance to rape of this scenario until just now. We have known about the pillaging for well over a decade.

Once the wolves were in New Mexico, the Game Commission at that time made the decision that the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish INMDGF) needed to be involved in the program just to keep an eye on things. During the Richardson Administration that involvement took on a much greater level under the direction of then Director Bruce Thompson.

Fortunately (I think), Governor Susana Martinez took a whole different approach to the issue, withdrawing the State of New Mexico’s participation at any level. At least someone heard the call for assistance that have fallen on almost deaf ears at the federal level.

Aside from turning uncontrolled predators on defenseless livestock, nearly as defenseless families and wildlife that has been a resource for New Mexicans and Americans for years, the grandest mistake the feds have made in the program is their inability to communicate with the families who live and work in rural New Mexico and Arizona.

Sadly, that hasn’t changed in nearly two decades. The lack of consistency in program managers hasn’t helped.

Back to the current release

In early April ranchers in the Gila National Forest and Wilderness began getting calls from the FWS wanted individual meetings to discuss an upcoming wolf release. There is such deep and abiding mistrust of the agency and the program that folks declined private meetings. They did however agree to a group meeting.

That meeting was held at Beaverhead on April 9. A large group of area residents and their supporters assembled with the list of questions they have been asking for more than 15 years. Again the answers were not forth coming, but from afar they are certainly laughable.

It is worth noting that only those ranch families living in a 10-mile radius of the release sight were even notified of the potential wolf release. Pretty disingenuous when you consider that wolves can lope 10 times that distance before a beef breakfast.

The wolf program presently has a coordinator and a field team leader who have been with the program for only about two years. All sides noted that it seems like a lifetime.

The meeting started with the attendees receiving a hand out that contained the proposal for relocating a pair of wolves to the Gila. It took awhile to get an answer beyond, “That’s in the proposal.” As if everyone in the room was a speed reader.

The preferred sight was at the far east edge of the Whitewater / Big Baldy Fire burn scar. The second alternative was in the southern end of the Wilderness.

Turns out that the plan has been in the works long enough for the FWS and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to evaluate 10 proposed sights and narrow down the number to two. We were only given maps of the two proposed sights. I asked for maps of the others . . . the statement was made by the USFS that there were people in Catron County who wanted wolves. I wanted to know why the wolves weren’t placed near the residents who wanted them. Didn’t get an answer.

The theory behind the preferred location is that there are two wolf packs to the north. The theory is that wolves generally move north and thus the hope is that those packs will keep the wolves in the release location.

The maps of the release area showed just how much land was devastated by last year’s mega-fires. It also demonstrated the tremendous lack of prey base for a predator like wolves. When questioned on that point the FWS responded that the NMDGF had reported that the elk population was on the cusp of an explosion in the area.

Well, maybe. But the caveat from the NMDGF is that explosion isn’t happening until it rains. Unfortunately for everyone, there is no expectation that the rains are coming this year. There certainly isn’t anything there for an elk explosion this year.

Add that to the fact that the gestation period alone dictates that an increase in population cannot happen before next Spring based on rain this summer. The fact is that livestock is about the only thing for predators to eat for at least this year. Wolf pups born this year will be taught to hunt this year — how can they hunt anything but livestock, which are also few and far between due to the drought.

Finally, why should elk be sacrificed in the name of wolves? Elk are an economic and recreational (hunting and viewing) resource for all.

The discussion then turned to the animals identified for this release. The male has been picked up at least twice for hanging around people. He was tu­rned out earlier this year and had to be picked up within weeks.

The female is a whole other story. She was from the Aspen Pack that did such damage on the Adobe Ranch a few years ago.

When that concern was raised, the response was that this female was only seven months old when she was picked up (after the killing sprees) and dogs don’t have memory. So, when do put a dog in obedience training . . . or why ?

Compounding the tension in the meeting was the fact that the ranchers and their families were much more familiar with the wolves and their histories than the federal employees. So much so that one commented “Wow, you guys know more about these animals than I do.” Ya think? These people are the ones that are living with the wolves 24/7, 365 days a year. Their business is animal husbandry. Can they ever get some credit?

It was disclosed that the Defenders of Wildlife has provided $10,000 to “assist ranchers” in dealing with the newly released pair. Never mind that there is a rancher in the Gila that is sitting on tens of thousands of dollars of loss from wolf depredation last year.

Repeatedly the ranchers were told that the FWS and others would be there to help. When asked what it was they could do to help, there were no new answers.

Herding was pointed to as the solution, yet again. When the ranchers said that had been tried and failed, they were asked if they had attended the herding training that had been recently held by a guy from Albert, Canada. Of course no one had attended.

There was then a wonderful story about how well herding worked in Alberta — failing to acknowledge that if herding doesn’t work the lethal option is available in Canada.

But the best part was about the third time someone asked who wanted the wolves. We got a primer about the environmental movement in the 1960s.

Near the end of the meeting we learned that there was to be a public meeting scheduled for the following week in Silver City. That location was selected as “central” to the reintroduction area. After a great deal of discussion we were finally able to get a commitment to hold a meeting in Reserve as well.

And, we learned that the wolf release was planned as early as the following week.

In closing this subject at least for this month, I want to note that the FWS employees are doing their jobs, the wolves are doing what wolves do and ranchers are working equally hard to protect their families, their pets and their livelihoods. This program was mishandled in its infancy. Unfortunately it has never been able to regain any footing.

The major issue is mistrust of the agency created at least in part by an inability to communicate with the people they demand live and work with these wolves. Getting a simple yes or no answer is nearly an impossibility no matter what the question. Until this changes, which we hold little hope for, there is no chance for success.

Who Does Perpetrate Animal Cruelty?

A Doña Ana County couple who owned hundreds of chickens that were killed by investigators during a 2009 cockfighting raid is alleging that authorities coerced them into handing over their poultry to be euthanized, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News.

The couple, Margarito Villa and Graciela Salinas, also contend they were illegally interrogated and detained and that their property was unlawfully searched as part of a coordinated plan by authorities to wipe out the cockfighting breeding population across the state.

Villa and Salinas, who were cleared last year of cockfighting charges by a jury, detailed their allegations in a March lawsuit filed against Doña Ana County investigators, the state attorney general’s office and an animal cruelty task force.

The couple alleged that they and a daughter were “detained without arrest or probable cause” at their home. Villa, through Albuquerque attorney Augustine Rodriguez, alleged that he was eventually coerced to turning over ownership of “247 roosters and twice as many more hens, chicks and eggs” because he was threatened with federal and state criminal charges. And, if that happened, he’d have to pay a $6 per-animal, per-day fee for housing them until the charges were resolved.

The couple turned over the birds to authorities and the roosters, hens, chicks and incubating eggs were all euthanized by Doña Ana County animal control official Curtis Childress, DASO investigator Robyn Gojkovich; other officers; Heather Ferguson, described as a “private employee” of the attorney general’s Animal Cruelty Task Force; and Patricia Norris, a veterinary forensics adviser to the sheriff’s department, the complaint alleges, the complaint states.

Villa contends the birds were worth “more than the market value of $1,500 to $2,000 for a trio of game roosters and two hens.”

Asked about the recently filed lawsuit, Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Kelly Jameson said the department office doesn’t comment on open litigation. Phil Sisneros, spokesman for Attorney General Gary King, said his office couldn’t discuss the litigation for “legal and ethical reasons.”

Mid-Year Coming Up!

Plans are in the works for the 2013 Mid Year Convention slated for June 16–18 at the Embassy Suites in Albuquerque. The room block is open with the great rate of $99. Please call 505/245-7100 to reserve yours! The meeting will again include NMCGA, Wool Growers, Federal Lands Council, CowBelles and the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau.