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Thursday, July 8, 2004

Judge Denies Wolf Roundup Request

By Jeff Jones
Journal Staff Writer
    A federal judge this week shot down a request by New Mexico farm and ranch groups to halt immediately the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program and round up all the free-roaming wolves.
    The groups, which include the New Mexico Cattle Growers' Association and the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, portray themselves as the wolves' protectors in portions of their ongoing U.S. District Court lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
    They argue in part that the wolves being released into southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona will breed with existing wolf/dog hybrids in that area, diluting the gene pool and hampering the recovery of the endangered animals.
    "The grand experiment, while noble in its cause, has ultimately failed," the groups' lawyers said in court records. "... The FWS has failed to ensure that its actions will not ultimately jeopardize the continued existence of the Mexican gray wolf in the wild."
    The New Mexico Cattle Growers in 1998 tried a different tactic: It headed up a group of rancher organizations that claimed the animals being released by the Fish and Wildlife Service were themselves wolf/dog or wolf/coyote hybrids. It lost that federal lawsuit, although the list of plaintiffs repeats that same claim in the current case.
    Ranchers in court papers at that time also alleged wolves took food away from endangered Mexican spotted owls, from which ranchers claimed they derived "substantial aesthetic enjoyment."
    Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, which intervened in the current case on the side of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said Wednesday the new case is just more "frivolous litigation."
    "... If the stakes weren't so high for this creature and the cost to taxpayers so high, it might be amusing," Robinson said. "Maybe the next suit will involve hybrid spotted owls— who knows?"
    Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers, had a different take.
    "We have opposed the program from its beginning for a variety of reasons. We continue to look at that multitude of reasons to do something about the program," Cowan said.
    Although U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo's ruling Tuesday denied the request for a preliminary injunction to halt the program, the case itself continues. Both sides are scheduled to submit their full written arguments by the end of the summer.
    In 2002, a female wolf in New Mexico gave birth to a litter of wolf/dog hybrids, which were later destroyed. The Fish and Wildlife Service said that was an extreme rarity.
    In addition to the hybrid claims, the plaintiffs in the current case also maintain the Fish and Wildlife Service underestimated the number of livestock the reintroduced wolves would kill.
    The agency said the number of confirmed or probable livestock killings by wolves is well below their projections— though it acknowledges some killings go undetected.
    In 2003, the service said, five head of livestock were confirmed killed or wounded by wolves, while seven other livestock animals were considered probable wolf victims.
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