Silver City left off wolf public scoping itinerary

Silver City Sun-News – Silver City left off wolf public scoping itinerary By M. John Fayhee Sun-News reporter [via]

SILVER CITY — The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the federal agency that oversees all endangered species issues, including the controversial Mexican gray wolf reintroduction in the Gila National Forest, will host a series of 12 public scoping meetings beginning next month that may very well determine the overall direction of the wolf reintroduction.

Those meetings will be held in numerous places, including Flagstaff, Phoenix, Tucson, Las Cruces, Grants, Alamogordo and Albuquerque, that are hundreds of miles away from the closest free-roaming wolf.

And they will be held in hamlets, such as Glenwood, N.M., and Alpine and Hon-Dah, Ariz., that, while close to the wolf-recovery area, are very small and remote.

But the only large town that can legitimately be described as part of the wolf recovery area — Silver City — which has neighborhoods with more people than Alpine and Glenwood combined and which has beaucoup residents that pass wolf signs every time they go for a backcountry hike — will not host one of the public-scoping meetings.

A spokesperson for USFWS said accusations that Silver City was left off the public-scoping itinerary had nothing to do with the town’s perceived liberal, pro-wolf-recovery bias. …

“We have been criticized for holding our regular wolf-related meetings in Albuquerque, and we have been told Albuquerque draws people who tend to be receptive to reintroductions,” Slown continued. “Conversely we’ve been criticized for holding meetings in southwest New Mexico because access is difficult and we draw people who do not favor endangered species reintroductions. How we have dealt with that is to balance our regular wolf-management meetings in the affected area with ones in the larger cities.”

“A lot of us are wondering why Silver City was not included,” said Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Las Cruces-based Southwest Environmental Center.

“They probably did a calculation, and they wanted to balance the towns where they perceived they would get a pro-wolf crowd with towns they figured would get an anti-wolf crowd. They’re probably just trying to be even-handed. The preliminary list did not even include Albuquerque. We had to petition Fish and Wildlife to include Albuquerque.”

Ironically, Ty Bays, a long-time local rancher who serves as the Southwest Regional Vice-President for the New Mexico Cattlegrowers’ Association, feels that Silver City may have been left off the public-scoping meeting itinerary because of its anti-wolf perception among USFWS personnel.

“I think they left Silver City off because the Grant County Commissioners sent a resolution to Fish and Wildlife saying that the federal government needs to pay ranchers for livestock losses due to wolves,” Bays said. “I think the decision is political, but it doesn’t really matter. We’ll make the drive to Glenwood for the meeting there.” …

According to Slown, the 12 scoping meetings are equally divided between Arizona and New Mexico.

“First, locations were selected that occur within the current wolf recovery area,” she said. “This gives us Glenwood in New Mexico. Reserve was a possibility, but it is in proximity to Alpine, which will be having a meeting on Nov. 28, so we put the meeting in Glenwood for Dec. 5. With Glenwood covered, Las Cruces was our choice as the southern location outside the reintroduction area.”

But there is more than just providing members of the public from a far-ranging geographic area the opportunity to comment on the wolf reintroduction. Slown indicated that part of the dialogue may very be expanding the wolf reintroduction into other areas.

“One of the questions we want to ask is, “should we be putting wolves in other areas of their historic range?‘ so that we do not have all our eggs in one basket, so to speak,” Slown said. “That is why you see locations not generally associated with the wolf reintroduction program.”

Bays feels that decision has already been made.