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Feds propose new rules on wolf releases May 08, 2005 9:50 AM

Feds propose new rules on wolf releases
Suggested changes partly the result of hearings in Catron, Socorro counties

Tania Soussan The Albuquerque Journal

Special to El Defensor Chieftain

Federal wildlife managers, in an effort to show they are responsive
to ranchers' concerns, have proposed new restrictions on wolf

But environmentalists say the changes would jeopardize recovery of the endangered Mexican gray wolves.

And one rancher says the federal government isn't doing enough.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has suggested a one-year
moratorium on some releases in response to requests from the
livestock industry and other opponents of the wolf program.

No captive-bred wolves without experience in the wild would be let
loose, and wolves that had killed livestock would not be moved from one state or Indian reservation to another if the proposal is

"I don't see it as a huge inhibition to our program at all," said
John Morgart, wolf program coordinator.

"Yes, it puts some constraints on us that we wouldn't ordinarily
have. It also makes an important statement."

The federally led reintroduction effort aims to establish a wild
population of wolves in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona.

After hearing from ranchers, hunters and guides at meetings in
Glenwood and Socorro arranged by Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., the Fish and Wildlife Service wanted to show it listens, Morgart said.

"We asked them to put a stop on new releases until they get a handle on the numbers out there," said Gila National Forest rancher Laura Schneberger.

She said ranchers believe there are 100 or more wolves in the wild, double the program's own estimate.

Schneberger said she is glad the service is thinking about the
issue, but said its proposal is "not a whole lot of change."

Representatives of Pearce could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said the
moratorium would hurt wolves in the wild. "It's a baldly political
move that's not supported by any science whatsoever," he said. "The population as a whole is going to be affected by this policy change."

Morgart said the Fish and Wildlife Service is open to talking with
anyone and "any request is going to be given a fair hearing."

Robinson was skeptical.

"We've requested changes ... in every conceivable format that's been opened up by the Fish and Wildlife Service," he said. "They haven't honored any of our requests."

The meetings organized by Pearce's office were held in February
after ranchers and others said they couldn't express their concerns
and opinions adequately at earlier meetings held by the wolf
recovery team.

"There were a number of requests made by the meeting participants and the congressman's aide," Morgart said. "In the opinion of folks at the meetings, there were plenty of wolves in the wild and they were breeding well."

The group asked for a one-year moratorium on releases of captive-bred wolves that had never been in the wild to allow time to assess the program. The participants also asked the service to stop moving problem wolves between states.

"We've been looking at how can we show a positive response," Morgart said, emphasizing that the service only was willing to go along with changes that would not hurt wolf recovery.

The draft proposal, which was announced Friday at a meeting in
Arizona, allows for the moratorium to be lifted if something
unexpected happens to bring the number of breeding pairs in the wild below six, Morgart said.

The proposal is open for public comments and a final decision will
made by the wolf program's Adaptive Management Oversight Committee in June, he said.

Morgart said he doesn't believe the moratorium would hamper the
program because releases of captive-reared wolves have all but
stopped already and because there is a pool of wolves with wild
experience now in captivity that could be released.

Robinson disagreed. He said the new restrictions would mean fewer wolves let loose in New Mexico and potential problems in maintaining genetic diversity in the wild.

In another change announced last Friday, Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Director Dale Hall decided the agency won't wait for a new wolf recovery plan to be complete before determining whether to propose relaxing rules of the wolf program.

That recovery planning process recently was put on indefinite hold.
Now, the service could make a decision about rule changes as early as the end of this year, when a five-year review of the program is expected to be complete.
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