Las Cruces – Governor Bill Richardson today issued an executive order that prohibits leghold and body-crushing traps within the Mexican wolf recovery area in New Mexico. The order bans commercial and recreational trapping in this area by private persons for a six-month period beginning on November 1, 2010; requires the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to undertake a study of which traps and trapping methods most threaten wolves; and directs the Department of Tourism to undertake a study on potential economic benefits of lobo-related ecotourism.
Conservation groups and a Game Commissioner applaud Governor Richardson's action, which demonstrates strong leadership at a crucial moment for the Mexican wolf program. Experts agree the program is in crisis, largely due to illegal killings.
"The Governor rightly recognizes that wild wolves can bring benefits to local communities," said Kevin Bixby, Executive Director of the Southwest Environmental Center. It's simple supply and demand: although once widespread, the supply of wild wolves in the wild in the U.S. is now limited to a few localities, while the demand to see them grows as more people come to appreciate their importance. Fortunately, New Mexico is one of the few places in the country that has wild wolves."
"The Mexican wolf has a friend in Governor Bill Richardson," stated John Horning, Executive Director of WildEarth Guardians. "We are grateful for the Governor's action today, as the lobos face mounting threats to their very survival," continued Horning.
"Governor Richardson understands the vital role wolves play as part of a healthy ecosystem," stated Sandy Buffett, Executive Director of Conservation Voters New Mexico and Vice-Chair of the NM State Game Commission. "This important policy change ensures that the Department of Game and Fish and the Game Commission will have the additional data necessary to assess the long-term biological impacts of trapping on wolf recovery."
At least 14 Mexican gray wolves have been harmed by private traps set throughout the recovery area. Two of the wolves had their legs amputated as a result. 12 of the 14 wolves were trapped in New Mexico. The other two were trapped in Arizona, which has banned public lands trapping since 1994.
Studies show that animals captured in body-gripping traps endure physiological trauma, dehydration, exposure, and predation. Animals that have been trapped and then released may sustain tissue damage and other injuries that can reduce their survivability, or increase the likelihood of their preying on domestic livestock because they are easier prey than native wildlife.
In June, WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club, and Southwest Environmental Center petitioned federal agencies, requesting an emergency halt to all trapping and snaring on the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service have not responded to the groups' request.
"Illegal killing continues to push the Mexican wolf toward extinction from the wild. Governor Richardson's order will protect lobos from cruel and indiscriminate traps in New Mexico. This is a cue for the feds to step up and to provide maximum protections for this critically endangered animal," added Wendy Keefover-Ring, director of carnivore programs for WildEarth Guardians.
Lobo reintroduction efforts in the U.S. began in 1998, but the wild population is less than half of what federal officials had planned, largely due to government removals and illegal killings. The Service's official end-of-the-year count for 2009 was just 42 Mexican wolves in the wild in an area spanning western New Mexico and eastern Arizona. That count may very well be lower at the close of 2010.
"By prohibiting traps and snares to protect our beleaguered lobos, Governor Richardson has again shown tremendous leadership to help wolves gain recovery," stated Mary Katherine Ray, Wildlife Chair of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club.
"Wolves bring millions of tourism dollars to Yellowstone. Directing the Department of Tourism to examine the potential for wolf tourism in New Mexico will benefit not only our wolves but also the economy of the Gila region and New Mexico," she added.
Top carnivores play important roles in their ecosystems. Gray wolves restored to Yellowstone National Park are instrumental in moving elk and deer away from sensitive streamside areas. As a result, beaver have bounced back due to flourishing stands of native plants such as willow and cottonwood. In turn, beaver create vital habitat for a variety of aquatic wildlife, including waterfowl and songbirds. Wolves also keep populations of smaller carnivores in check, resulting in burgeoning biodiversity in areas where wolves occur in sufficient numbers. These types of ripple effects could occur in Mexican wolf territory if lobo numbers increase to ecologically effective levels.