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Lawsuit filed over wolf program

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APACHE COUNTYThe Board of Commissioners of Catron and Otero counties, the Gila National Forest Livestock Permittees’ Association, the group Americans for Preservation of the Western Environment (APWE), and several ranches filed a lawsuit in New Mexico federal district court against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and its Director Benjamin Tuggle and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMGF) and its Director Tod Stevenson over their handling of the reintroduction of the Mexican Gray Wolf program.
The 40-page lawsuit was filed, Aug. 27 Daniel Bryant attorney for the law firm Bryant, Schneider-Cook. The case alleges violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. “The defendants have through actions and omissions violated the enabling rules and altered the program without completing the environmental review or other environmental documentation required by NEPA and its implementing regulations, and these actions are therefore arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with the law…” according to the brief.
In a phone interview, Bryant said he has spent 32 years battling the federal government over land issues. “I’m the one waving my hands at the federal land managers telling them they have to give us a voice and pay attention to how their decisions affect the people.”
The wolf reintroduction program has cost taxpayers at least $20 million since 1998 according to an article in the Arizona Daily Star in June.
The following statements were made and quoted from the program’s April 1997 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Final Rule:
The FEIS and the Final Rule both were designed with “considerable management flexibility to reduce the potential conflicts between wolves and the activities of governmental agencies, livestock operators, hunters and others.”
The FEIS also states that the initial release of stock of wolves will be “surplus” Mexican wolves from the captive population. “A surplus wolf is one whose loss or removal will not significantly adversely affect the genetic or demographic make-up of the population.” Under the Endangered Species Act, the USFWS classified the wolves as a nonessential experimental population.
The Final Rule states, “Nonessential experimental designation enables the Service to develop measures for management of the population that are less restrictive than the mandatory prohibitions that protect species with ‘endangered’ status.”
The Final Rule states, “The Service finds that even if the entire experimental population died this would not appreciably reduce the prospects for future survival of the subspecies in the wild. That is, the captive population could produce more surplus wolves and future reintroductions still would be feasible…”
Catron County commission Chairman Ed Wehrheim has been battling the wolf issue in his county for years. At issue is the USFWS not following its own rules, especially concerning the removal of wolves that have preyed upon livestock three times. “They haven’t removed any wolves since 2007 and they’ve been changing their policies without going through the proper channels,” he said.
Wehrheim went on the say that private property owners are not being compensated for the loss of livestock and the USFWS admitted that for every confirmed kill, there are seven more not confirmed.
Other issues stated in the lawsuit are the lack of funding available for the program and how it’s adversely affecting the monitoring. This includes how the lack of funding and personnel has resulted in reduced wolf monitoring in the areas of radio-collaring, year-end population counts and response to wolf sightings.
Further charges in the lawsuit include, “The USFWS and the NMDGF (New Mexico Game and Fish) have ignored the scientific data contained in their own files regarding hybridization between wolves and coyotes, and have withheld such information from Plaintiffs and the general public, continuing to assert that there is no evidence of this type of hybridization.”
The lawsuit asks that the judge, Robert Brack, issue a preliminary injunction preventing the Defendants from proceeding with any management decisions which are in violation of the law, to fully fund the required actions on wolf removals and population counts, declaring the Defendants’ deviation from the rules as unlawful, and asking for reasonable attorney fees, interest and costs.

The next step in the case is the 20 to 60 days the defendants have to answer the charges. Bryant estimates that it will take eight months to a year before all the preliminary issues are handled and a court date is set.

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