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Catron County: Groups aim to overturn wolf law

July 29, 2007
Santa Fe New Mexican
In This Release
Wildlife   Mexican gray wolf
#DefendCarnivores, #EndangeredSpeciesAct
Albuquerque, NM – A federal court has been asked to strike down an ordinance that asserts Catron County’s right to trap wild Mexican gray wolves that the county deems a threat to people.

“The U.S. Constitution says federal law trumps state and local law when the two deal with the same issue,” Melissa Hailey, an attorney for WildEarth Guardians, said Friday.

The Santa Fe-based environmental group and Sinapu, a Boulder, Colo.-based carnivore activist group, sued Catron County commissioners Thursday in U.S. District Court in Santa Fe.

The lawsuit alleges the county ordinance violates the federal Endangered Species Act and that the ordinance is invalid.

The lawsuit seeks a court order halting the commission from taking any further action under the ordinance.

“Pragmatically, we’re trying to remove this looming threat from the county that they’re going to go out and harm wolves,” Hailey said. “Very few are left on the ground, and they’re already being aggressively managed by the federal government.”

Catron County Attorney Ron Shortes said Friday that the county had not been served with the lawsuit, but said it was “a gross misrepresentation made in bad faith which distorts the facts and law.”

“These organizations aren’t suffering from the problems with the wolf program – we here in Catron County are,” Shortes said. “Even the wolves here are suffering more from this poorly managed program than the WildEarth Guardians and Sinapu are.”

Bill Aymar, county manager, said, “My personal opinion is that these groups continue to try to turn the ESA (Endangered Species Act) into a superstatute, and I just don’t see that.”

The commission voted unanimously Feb. 8 to adopt the ordinance that would allow a designated county officer to trap or remove the endangered wolves if federal authorities fail to act first.

The ordinance limits the trapping to wolves that are accustomed to people or have a high probability of harming children or defenseless people.

The federal government has been reintroducing the wolves to the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area – 4.4 million acres of the Gila and Apache Sitgreaves national forests in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona plus Arizona’s 1.6 million-acre White Mountain Apache reservation, interspersed with private land and towns.

The program began March 29, 1998, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released 11 wolves that were bred in captivity.

The recovery area had 59 wolves as of January 2007, and that number has fluctuated with wolf deaths and removals and the births of pups, said Elizabeth Slown, a Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman in Albuquerque.

The agency conducts one count of wild wolves annually.

By the end of June, only 26 wolves could be located through radio telemetry, the lawsuit said.

The program has a three-strikes rule that requires the agency to remove any wolf linked to three livestock killings a year – either by trapping and keeping it in captivity or by shooting it.

The agency fatally shot one of those three-strikes wolves – an alpha female – July 5 in Catron County.

Copyright 2007 The New Mexican – Reprinted with permission