Pressure resumes for trapping ban in New Mexico wolf area

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – Now that state game
officials have cleared the way for trapping to resume in
southwestern New Mexico, environmentalists are renewing their
calling for the federal government to do more to protect the
Mexican gray wolf in the Southwest.

The U.S. Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service
received letters this week from the group WildEarth Guardians and
its supporters. They asked that officials reconsider a 2010
petition seeking to end trapping throughout the wolf’s range in
southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona.

Supporters contend trapping presents a threat to wolf recovery
and that the agencies have a legal obligation under the Endangered
Species Act to maintain fit wolves that can hunt for native
prey.

“As a direct result of trapping activities in the recovery
area, two wolves have had entire limbs amputated. Some wolves lost
digits and others sustained different injuries,” the group said in
its letters.

Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, another
pro-wolf group, said any additional injuries or deaths are “of
grave concern just given the numbers and the genetic plight of the
Mexican wolf.”

The federal government has been trying to reintroduce wolves to
the region since 1998. Biologists had hoped to have more than 100
wolves in the wild within a decade, but that number is closer to
50.

Regulated furbearer trapping on the Gila and Apache national
forests was banned last summer by former Democratic Gov. Bill
Richardson, a supporter of the wolf reintroduction effort.

The state Game Commission extended the ban last fall, giving
researchers more time to study the risks of trapping and snaring to
wolves. While the results of the study have yet to be made public,
the commission voted last week to lift the ban.

Environmentalists want the Fish and Wildlife Service to amend
the wolf reintroduction rule to ban the use of all traps and snares
in the wolf’s range. They want the Forest Service to impose
emergency trapping closures on the Gila and Apache forests and
amend any planning documents to ban trapping in the future.

Regional Fish and Wildlife spokesman Tom Buckley said Friday the
agency isn’t going to be doing anything differently in the area now
that New Mexico has lifted its trapping ban.

“There’s always a concern when there are additional threats in
an area and this of course will entail an additional threat to the
wolves, but they’ve had that before,” Buckley said, noting that
the ban had been in place for only a year.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, there have been 14
incidents involving wolves caught in traps since 2002. In six
cases, the animals were injured.

“It’s something we’ll keep an eye on,” Buckley said. “We
would encourage anybody who does any trapping out there to check
their traps regularly so that any wildlife, including wolves, if
they get caught they don’t have to sit in the trap and
suffer.”

The Mexican gray wolf was added to the federal endangered
species list in 1976 after it was all but wiped out due to hunting
and government-sponsored extermination campaigns.

The reintroduction effort along the New Mexico-Arizona border
has been hampered by illegal shootings, court battles, concerns
from environmentalists and complaints from ranchers. Another blow
came last month when the New Mexico Game and Fish Department voted
to pull out of the project.

Buckley said the Fish and Wildlife Service is still trying to
make progress on revamping the wolf’s recovery plan and the agency
is getting its new interdiction program up and running so ranchers
who lose livestock to the wolves have another place to seek
financial help.

In fact, the interdiction program had its first claim from a New
Mexico rancher in June. The claim, which is being processed, sought
$1,500 for a pair of calves that were confirmed to have been killed
by wolves.

Buckley said wildlife managers are also hopeful after seeing
pups with some of the packs during surveys in the wake of the
Wallow fire, which burned hundreds of thousands of acres in Arizona
and New Mexico.

“If they survive until the end of the year, they will be part
of our count,” he said. “But between now and then, we’re just
keeping our fingers crossed.”

 

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