Recent Developments Regarding the Endangered Species Act and How They are Affecting New Mexico's Farmers and Ranchers

5/12/2014 2:09:42 PM

Ask any New Mexico rancher in or near the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area and they'll tell you wolves are slowly putting them out of business.  Ask the United States Fish and Wildlife Service about wolves anywhere outside of New Mexico and they'll tell you about a wolf recovery success story.

So successful in fact the USFWS has proposed delisting wolves in Michigan and other parts of the nation.  However, closer to home, the Mexican Grey
Wolf is still considered endangered and still wreaking havoc on area ranches.  In order to lessen the negative effects of the wolf reintroduction, the Mexican Wolf/ Livestock Coexistence Council (Coexistence Council), an 11 person panel created by the USFWS, recently released a plan that purports to pay ranchers for livestock loss due to wolf depredation.  

The plan is not popular with local ranchers. "This particular proposal is a weak attempt in addressing financial concerns of livestock growers," says Crystal Diamond, a rancher and board member for the Sierra County Farm & Livestock Bureau.  "Wolves impact far more than cattle operations.  These protected predators pose a great threat to New Mexico's hunting industry.  Sportsmen will lose hunting opportunities and the outfitter & guide community stand to lose their entire livelihoods.  Furthermore, ranchers in wolf country aren't just raising cattle, they're raising families on ranch lands that have been handed down for generations, long before the reintroduction of the Mexican Grey Wolf.  As a mother of two young daughters, discussing compensation for losses is simply offensive. This offer addresses the threat these killers pose to cattle, but who's addressing the threat they pose to humans?"

The goals of the Coexistence Plan are to reduce wolf/livestock conflicts and the need for management removals of depredating or nuisance wolves while sustaining viable ranching, protecting healthy western landscapes, and advancing a wild, self-sustaining Mexican Grey Wolf population.

Loretta Rabenau, a rancher in the Gila Mountains and a member of NMF&LB, is skeptical of the plan's intentions to reimburse ranchers for livestock that has been killed by wolves.  "We have received compensation for some losses in the past. It does not make up for the unconfirmed depredations or the injuries and stress to the herd. The bottom line is that I would prefer to have the right to protect my property from the wolves rather than deal with the potential red tape of receiving compensation."

"We haven't signed onto anything yet," says John Richardson, NMF&LB member and owner of a ranch near Monticello.  "We firmly believe the wolf reintroduction program is a failure and that's why the USFWS is trying an alternative plan."

Another area of concern on the other side of the state is the Lesser Prairie Chicken which was recently declared "threatened" by the USFWS.  Threatened is one step from endangered and the designation will impact 40 million square acres over five states.  Jim Lane, previous Director of New Mexico Game and Fish and now an ESA consultant, was disappointed in the decision stating that, "The science does not support the listing. This bird has been declared extinct twice in the last hundred years, but always manages to come back when drought recedes." Lane supports state control of the LPC habitat noting that, "States are in a better position to work with landowners to manage the land and keep the bird in state control with an ultimate goal of complete recovery."  One option available to local farmers and ranchers is enrollment in the Range-Wide Conservation Plan through the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.  

Enrollment allows the land owner to continue agricultural operations with some limitations.  A plan is developed that provides guidelines for habitat protection.  For their efforts, land owners are given protection from ESA "take" provisions, providing insurance in case of a bird death.  However, the agreements are long-term, up to 10 years and many land owners are hesitant to commit to such an extended period.  

That combined with little to no information regarding the proposed range of the LPC means few NMF&LB members are choosing to participate. "There was a lot of confusion from the very get go on this deal with numerous plans circulating, I believe there still remains some uncertainty with the plan adopted by USFWS," said Chad Smith, NMF&LB CEO.  "USFWS definitely needs to do a better job of informing landowners about the pros and cons of
participating in a conservation agreement.  Until that occurs this private/government partnership is going to be hampered."