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Mixed reaction to wolf killing
By By Thomas J. Baird
Jul 14, 2004, 07:30 am


 
Reaction to the “lethal taking,” or the shooting death of an endangered male Mexican gray wolf by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Sunday, brought varied reactions Tuesday from those closely associated with the program.
Officials with state and federal agencies said they did what they had to do and New Mexico’s largest nonprofit agricultural organization agreed. However, a conservation group, which has sued or petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the past, said Tuesday that a specific, genetically rare animal had been killed, making a mockery of the program.
“In the general nature of things, including this killing and the trapping this week of the Cibola National Forest pack, this is a control program masquerading as a recovery program,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit conservation group based in Grant County. “We’re saddened by this. It’s hard to see what public purpose was served by the shooting.”
The wolf, known as M574, was part of the Saddle Pack and was genetically the rarest of its species in the wild and in the program, he said.
Fish and Wildlife officials reported Monday that the wolf was “lethally removed from the wild in Arizona on Sunday.” Extensive trapping efforts had begun in March, agency officials said, but the rough terrain and the wolf’s erratic movements made it too difficult to capture.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorized the action on June 15 due to the wolf’s attacks on cattle.
This was the second killing of a Mexican wolf in the reintroduction program. Overall, the Service has approved three separate lethal take actions, two of which resulted in the killing of wolves, while the third order was retracted.
“Lethal take is our last choice for removing wolves,” said Dale Hall, director of the service’s southwest region. “The loss of any individual animal that could contribute to the recovery of a threatened species can not be taken lightly.”
Hall said the agency promised it would remove depredating wolves prior to the beginning of the reintroduction program in 1998. He added the agency must keep its promise so as to not compromise the overall program. He added the agency’s focus will be on the remaining wolves in the wild, which he said is somewhere between 50 to 60 animals in New Mexico and Arizona. Conservationists argue the number is far lower.
The Service reiterated its position this week that the reintroduction program is an exercise that is “nonessential” and deals with an “experimental population.” The program, by designation, allows flexibility for managing wolves in conflict situations, Hall added, including cattle depredations that resulted in the lethal take.
The wolf’s mate, who also preyed on cows, was captured in March and placed in the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge Wolf Management Facility where she had a litter of five pups fathered by M574. The pups are being cared for by their mother and a surrogate father.
“This is just more hard evidence of the problematic nature of this program,” Erik Ness, spokesman for the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, said Tuesday. “All these promises that there wouldn’t be much depredation, but we’re finding out differently. I think our members are probably glad that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is doing what it’s supposed to do.”
Ness said the bureau’s board is calling for a full financial accounting of the recovery program by the General Services Administration, the accounting arm of the U.S. Congress. He deemed the program “ill conceived.”
“We need to step back and take a look at this thing,” he added. “They’ve spent millions since the 1980s on this program, before the first wolf was ever released.”
Terry B. Johnson, chief of non-game and endangered wildlife for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, also weighed in on the lethal take issue Tuesday.
“The decision to kill a wolf is not an easy one for anyone to make,” he told the Sun-News. “We respect the regional director’s willingness to make the hard calls. The bottom line for wolf managers is this — when we put wolves out on the ground in 1998, we did so with a very clear commitment to manage those wolves or any problem situations.”
Johnson said attacks on livestock was clearly one of the expected problems.
“Consistent with the nonessential, experimental population rule, we’ve established guidelines for determining when the court of last resort tool — lethal take — can and should be used,” he said. “Wolf 574 met those thresholds and because trapping efforts were unsuccessful for a prolonged period, lethal take was lamentable, but appropriate. Failure to do what we did would have been to betray the trust the public has placed in this program.”

Thomas J. Baird can be reached at tbaird@scsun-news.com