At its latest meeting the New Mexico Game and Fish Commission, not so affectionately known as Maim and Squish, voted against further reintroduction of Mexican wolves in New Mexico. This follows the previous month’s decision to expand mountain lion hunting and trapping. With leadership like Paul Kienzle, the Mountain States Legal Foundation’s vice chairman for litigation, and Elizabeth Ryan, a member of Safari Club International, the decisions by Maim and Squish did not surprise anyone, although some people may have been surprised by the lack of even a pretense of a public hearing.
Now it is up to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to take full control of the Mexican Wolf Recovery program. The failure of the federal government to protect public land in Nevada from rancher Cliven Bundy set a dangerous precedent for New Mexico. Catron County ranchers have resisted the Federal Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Program from the beginning. In May last year the Otero County Cattle Growers Association and their parent organization New Mexico Cattle Growers Association held a rally to “protect our land from federal designation.” The federal government must be prepared to protect federal wildlife habitat in the face of armed resistance.
As a member of the American Lands Council, Otero County claims to speak for “ranchers, loggers, miners, hunters, trappers, fishermen, and energy producers across the West.” The American Lands Council was organized “to secure local control of western public lands by transferring federal public lands to willing states.” Their new Sagebrush Rebellion aims to return to the states rights guaranteed by the Constitution as it existed before the Civil War, when, according to their hero Cliven Bundy, slaves lived a good life.
Ranchers organized the original Sagebrush Rebellion in the 1970s in reaction to the passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which reorganized the BLM in order to insure “public lands be retained in Federal ownership.” Ronald Reagan campaigned as a supporter of the Sagebrush Rebellion, backing up his promise by appointing James Watt, founder of the anti-environmental Mountain States Legal Foundation, as his Secretary of the Interior. Under Watt, the Endangered Species Act was amended to include section 10(j), which empowers the Secretary of Interior to declare an endangered population “experimental and non-essential.”
By limiting the Mexican wolf program to zoo wolves and their progeny under the 10(j) experimental rule, USFWS has, from the beginning, made wolf reintroduction a difficult process. But while the 10(j) rule requires consultation with state game departments, it does not allow a state to nullify the continued reintroduction of federally listed Mexican wolves on federal public lands. USFWS needs to assert its authority, and should consider revising the rules governing the wolf reintroduction program in order to give full endangered species protection to the Mexican wolf.
The upcoming meeting of the Arizona and New Mexico Wildlife Society chapters will feature a panel with an American Lands Council board member examining “Who will manage the future of our public lands?” The Wildlife Society is the professional organization of the game department wildlife managers. Such conferences prove that game management is firmly rooted in politics, not in biology, ecology or any other science. There is no way to reform the New Mexico Game Commission. It is time to abolish it.