Sunday, February 08, 2009

USFWS releases wolf survey; Schneberger responds; language questioned

The USFWS has released the findings of their 2008 Mexican Wolf Population Survey:

A total of 52 Mexican wolves were counted in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico at the end of 2008, according to the annual survey conducted by the Interagency Field Team for wolf reintroduction. There were also 52 Mexican wolves recorded in the 2007 survey. Surveys are conducted in January of each year. Pups born in the summer must survive to December 31 to be counted as part of the Mexican wolf population. Fixed-wing aircraft and functional radio-telemetry were used to confirm five wolf packs on New Mexico's Gila National Forest, five packs on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona, and six lone wolves - two in Arizona and four in New Mexico. The survey indicated that there were only two pairs that met the federal definition of breeding pairs at year?s end...

Seven of the 10 packs produced at least 18 pups, with 11 surviving until the end of the year. However, based on the definition in the final rule establishing the reintroduction project, the count only recognizes two breeding pairs because by year?s end, one or more of the mates in two packs had died. In addition, three packs had only a single offspring survive until December 31 (survival of two or more pups until December 31 in the year of their birth is required to qualify as a breeding pair). In two of these packs, one pup died under suspicious circumstances late in 2008, resulting in both packs not qualifying as a breeding pair...

Here's the part of the release that the media latched on to, quoting Regional Director Tuggle:

"Except for the illegal shooting or suspicious demise of seven wolves, 2008 would have seen Mexican wolf populations on the upswing again. These mortalities are an intolerable impediment to wolf recovery. We will continue to aggressively investigate each illegal wolf killing to help ensure that anyone responsible is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

That quote led to the headlines like the following:

Feds: Killings hamper Mexican wolf population...MSNBC

Illegal shooting No. 1 reason for loss of critically endangered Mexican gray wolves...New Mexico Independent

Laura Schneberger then responded with her own release:

Solving wolf livestock conflict was not prioritized in 2008 and problem wolves were left on the ground. Some ranchers were provided range riders during high depredation seasons as part of an experimental livestock conflict prevention program but clearly more genuine effort by agency personnel is necessary to develop long term solutions to wolf conflict. It may be too late for some ranchers who have had it with dealing with the agencies.

During 2008 the agency did not see a lessening of wolf removals as implied in their press release. They chose to comply with the wishes of environmental organizations who demanded the agency stop removing problem wolves...

“Instead of admitting wolf reintroduction has natural pitfalls the agency blithely attempts to blame the failures of their program on local people by implying the population would be doing better if people weren’t shooting them. I am not the only one that doesn’t appreciate those kinds of spin tactics but it has become their habit. It is somewhat disingenuous of the agencies leadership to imply that some illegal actions are the cause for their continued failure when the agency themselves have no capture collar or vaccination program for pups born in the wild. This is a sad situation because most ranchers simply don’t bother to call on the agency for intervention anymore because this year they refused to appropriately mitigate livestock depredation despite assurance of Dr. Benjamin Tuggle...

Dr. Tuggle and his press officer purposely placed that language in his press release. It is a fair question to ask why that language, including a link to another press release about prosecution, was used in their release. Was it to impress the environmental community and wolf advocates? Was it to lay the blame on the local citizens for the programs lack of success? Did it have a political/bureacratic motive aimed at the new leadership in the Department of Interior? Possibly he hoped to accomplish all three. We do know it was placed there for some reason.

Read the article in the Ag Journal on how this program is having a terrible impact on families, read Laura Schneberger's comments on the issue, and then read the inflammatory, responsibility-dodging and politically motivated language in the USFWS press release, and you will begin to understand why the local citizenry is so fed up with the mismanagement of this program by federal and state officials.

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