Chaves Soil and Water and several other conservation districts filed suit Wednesday against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for barring them from participating in the process of listing the Mexican gray wolf.
The wildlife service is proposing to extend a controversial program to begin releasing the predators into the Apache and Gila National forests and disperse them into an experimental population area, which includes Chaves County.
The 14 soil and water conservation districts filed a lawsuit in the New Mexico Federal District Court after the USFWS barred them from participating in the process of deciding whether to list the Mexican gray wolf as an endangered species.
“The litigation that was filed by the districts was really a last resort,” said Aubrey Dunn, a supervisor of the Chaves Soil and Water Conservation District. “Today marks the day that local governments, including soil and water conservation districts are standing up for their constituents.”
The districts tried requesting a seat at the table by calling, writing and seeking help from congressional delegates, Dunn said.
“There is no question that the New Mexican wolf rule proposal will have a significant impact on much of New Mexico,” Dunn said.
Chaves County has joined as a cooperating agency, as a member of the Coalition of Arizona/New Mexico Counties.
County Commissioner Kim Chesser said the county wants to be involved as much as possible, and said he would like to see the soil and water conservation districts be allowed to do the same.
“My main concern is, the fact that anytime you have an endangered species listed … it goes against personal property rights,” Chesser said. “If that wolf is here, our property rights go out the door. The Endangered Species Act sort of overrules all of them, and that’s just wrong.”
Chesser’s other concern is the predatory nature of the Mexican gray wolf.
“They’re stealing from the livestock operators by killing the livestock. It’s a big deal,” Chesser said.
Several Arizona ranchers have lost livestock as a result of the wolf-release program in the past two decades. The USFWS has developed a fee schedule to repay owners for losses, according to a statement made by USFWS Spokeswoman Christine Tincher to the Arizona Daily Star. State lawmakers are now fighting to gain state control of compensation, saying the federal government is not paying ranchers for losses.
USFWS pays $800 for a calf, a yearling is worth $1,200, a cow is $1,450 and a bull is $2,500, Tincher said.
The Mexican gray wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf, was once common throughout parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico, according to the USFWS. The wildlife service first began reintroducing the subspecies into parts of Arizona, known as the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area.
The wildlife service proposes to delist gray wolves and list the Mexican wolf as an endangered subspecies. The service also proposes to expand activities in the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area, which was designated in 1998.
This area is between I-40 to the north and I-10 to the south, which includes Chaves and Lincoln counties, according to Tincher.
The wolves are now confined to the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, which is within the Mexican Wolf Experimental Area. That area consists of the Apache National Forest in Arizona and the Gila National Forest in New Mexico.
The revisions would allow the service to release wolves throughout the Blue Range Recovery Area and disperse them into the rest of the Experimental Population Area.
“We are also considering expanding the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in New Mexico to include the Magdalena District of the Cibola National Forest,” Tincher said.
If approved, wolves will be allowed to expand into almost all of the southern two-thirds of New Mexico south of I-40, according to Dunn.
“There are no proposals to release wolves from captivity into either Chaves or Lincoln counties. However, wolves could disperse into suitable habitat in these two counties as suitable habitat occurs in the Lincoln National Forest,” Tincher said.