TAOS – Northern New Mexico could potentially be sandwiched between two ongoing wolf reintroduction programs.
While residents of Taos County likely won’t hear these animals howl anytime soon, scientists have found that the area will provide suitable habitat for Mexican gray wolves and promote connectivity with other wolf populations.
North of Taos County, a slim majority of Colorado voters approved a 2020 statewide ballot measure that required the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to develop and implement a restoration and management plan for gray wolves on “designated lands” within the state.
A spokesperson for the commission said it was tracking a pack of eight gray wolves in Jackson County, on the Colorado-Wyoming border.
The lands designated for the program “are defined in law as those lands west of the Colorado Continental Divide that the commission determines to be consistent with its Gray Wolf Restoration and Management Plan,” the spokesperson said. word. “However, wolves are not expected to stay within a specific boundary.”
Mexican Gray Wolves in the United States are not permitted outside the boundaries of the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area, the northern boundary of which extends along Interstate 40 from Clines Corners east to Kingman, Ariz.
This area may be expanded north of I-40 in the future, resulting in overlap and interbreeding between the two gray wolf subspecies.
Allowing Mexican gray wolves to inhabit north-central New Mexico would help restore the genetic diversity of the Mexican population, proponents say.
Michael Robinson, senior conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, said scientists have identified three areas where Mexican gray wolves — and their genetic diversity — could thrive.
“One is within the current wolf population area of the Gila and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests and Fort Apache Preserve. Another was the Grand Canyon area, including the North Rim and South Rim, and the third was the Southern Rocky Mountains, including the area around Taos and extending into southern Colorado,” Robinson said. .
“The bottom line is that while I don’t think the Mexican gray wolf lived in northern New Mexico, there were closely related wolves, like the southern Rocky Mountain wolf, that lived there. is a place where they could recover, including the very important genetic restoration that they need,” he said. “That’s why we proposed that Mexican wolves be introduced into southern Colorado.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife said it had no authority over the decision.
“We are focused on meeting the requirements we have under state law and managing wildlife in Colorado,” the agency spokesperson said, adding that the commission “n ‘has no management authority of any kind in the State of New Mexico’.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said it was too early to know how the two programs in New Mexico and Colorado might interact and cooperate.
“The service has been in contact with Colorado Parks and Wildlife regarding their wolf reintroduction plans,” the Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson said. “The impacts of wolves released in Colorado on Mexican wolves will depend on a host of factors, including the success of Colorado’s reintroduction, where Colorado chooses to release wolves, the subspecies Colorado chooses to use, wolf dispersal patterns in Colorado, the size of the Mexican wolf population when the two populations interact, and many more.
“Once Colorado Parks and Wildlife has a final plan in place, the service will be able to evaluate management options to ensure the continued recovery of Mexican wolves in the experimental Mexican wolf population area,” added the spokesperson.
Efforts are already underway to prepare for the onset of conflict between ranchers in northern New Mexico and wolves, a long-standing problem in southern regions of the state.
James Wanstall, a natural resources specialist with the New Mexico Department of Agriculture in Las Cruces, is working with multiple agencies to streamline the process for ranchers to receive compensation for livestock killed by wolves. He spoke at a Taos soil and water conservation meeting last month, noting that livestock depredation by wolves “is not just a problem in the Gila [National Forest]where wolf reintroductions began, but also affects ranchers in the Cibola National Forest.
“There are herders losing five, six, seven head of cattle in two weeks,” he said. “This time of year they lose pregnant females.”
According to the most recent report from October, the Mexican Interagency Wolf Field Team counted 95 confirmed livestock deaths last year from wolves in New Mexico and Arizona, and three probable deaths.
Wanstall said it can take up to two years for a breeder to get what some consider too little monetary compensation – $900 for calves, $1,550 for cows, $3,500 for bulls and 1 $100 for yearlings.
A longer version of this story first appeared in Taos News, a sister publication of Santa Fe’s New Mexican.