The state Game Commission approved a controversial proposal Thursday that critics fear will harm efforts to reintroduce the Mexican grey wolf. The reintroduction program depends on bringing wolves into New Mexico from other states.
On a bitterly cold day in Española, about 50 people watched as the New Mexico Game Commission considered a proposal to change how permits are issued for private land owners who want to import non-domesticated wildlife, specifically carnivores.
Donald Jaramillo explained no longer would the Game and Fish Department Director be the sole person to review applications - instead the entire commission would be required to hear public comment before approving them.
“The big thing to remember,” Jaramillo said, “is that the State Game Commission must review any permit application for the importation of any carnivore.”
More than a dozen advocates like Rita Gentry, who has been working on reintroducing the endangered Mexican gray wolf here in New Mexico, spoke up saying, if adopted the amendments not only meddle in private property rights but they would really stymie the project.
“We need to foster genetic diversity in our wolf population,” Gentry said. “Private facilities give us the necessary space for wolf breeding.”
Kerrie Romero was representing the New Mexico Council of Outfitters and Guides. She was one of three people in the room who spoke up in support of the changes. She said she wants other species - like elk and deer - to be safe from the wolves.
“We don’t think that it’s unrealistic to add an additional layer of protection to the ungulate herds from overwhelming predator herds,” Romero said. “Therefore, we support you in this process.”
The most recent numbers show that there are just 37 Mexican gray wolves in the state and even though the commission received almost 400 emails in opposition of the changes, after everyone who wanted to speak spoke, Commission Chair Paul Kienzle called for a vote with no additional discussion. The vote was unanimous to make the changes.
As wolf advocates flooded out of the room they said things like “unbelievable” and “so much for public comment.”
Judy Calman is a staff attorney for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. She said she’s concerned that now an appointed commission has the authority to deny permits to people who are working to recover the endangered Mexican grey wolf. She thinks that could lead to litigation down the road.
“This has been a commission that historically has been pretty opposed to the wolf,” Calman said. “So I’m guessing that the next time one of the wolf recovery people wants to import a wolf, say from Colorado to New Mexico to breed at a private facility, if that gets denied the in-state facility could probably legally appeal that.”
Cattle rancher Carlos Chacón applauded the vote saying even though the wolves are indigenous, they’ve killed livestock. He said, for him, if one of his neighbors wanted to bring in a wild predator he would want a say in the matter.
“The way I see it is that the amendment is going to provide opportunity for the public, particularly those that might be impacted most by it, to provide some input prior to the permitting,” Chacón said. “I was very supportive of that and happy that it passed.”
The changes go into effect on December 15th and will not affect the two privately owned Mexican gray wolf facilities in New Mexico that are already in operation. At least, not until it is time for them to reapply for their permits.