Public comment sought on changes to wolf removal policy

Las Cruces, New Mexico (AP) 5-08

State and federal officials are considering changes to a controversial rule that requires a Mexican gray wolf to be removed from the wild if it preys on livestock three times in a one-year period.

Gov. Bill Richardson has called for the suspension of the rule, known as Standard Operation Procedure 13, to halt the removal of wolves, which numbered about 52 at the end of 2007. Removal can be either by capturing or killing the wolf.

The proposed policy change attempts to address a scenario in which a rancher might intentionally lure a wolf to attack cattle and force its removal, said Terry Johnson, endangered species coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Johnson said he had “zero information” that such a scenario has occurred, but it’s a possibility the program’s policies have not addressed.

The wolf recovery program’s Adaptive Management Oversight Committee, which consists of six federal, state and tribal agencies, is seeking written comment on the proposed policy change until June 25. A decision on whether to adopt the change is expected at a July 31 meeting of agency directors.

Critics of SOP 13 say the policy favors ranching interest while thwarting the ability of the wolf population to grow in national forests of southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico. Ranchers say the policy targets wolves that grow accustomed to preying on cattle.

In joint comments, 17 conservation groups from Arizona and New Mexico say the proposed policy change “tinker(s) with a fundamentally flawed procedure that permits the second extinction of the Mexican wolf in the wild.”

The groups also criticized the proposed policy change as being unenforceable because it depends on knowledge of livestock owners’ intentions.

Under the proposal, a wolf would not be penalized for a livestock kill if federal investigators conclude that that “intentional attraction or repeated knowing attraction of wolves contributed or likely contributed to causing” the depredation.