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By Benjamin Fisher, Silver City Sun-News

SILVER CITY — More than 30 Mexican gray wolf enthusiasts and interested residents stepped into the shade at the Little Walnut Creek Picnic area for the 15th Anniversary Lobo Birthday Party on Sunday.

Featuring guest speaker Dave Parsons, carnivore conservation biologist and former US Fish and Wildlife Service Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator, and live music by the Silver City String Beans, the event was held by the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

According to the group’s website, the Alliance is a nonprofit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection, restoration, and continued enjoyment of New Mexico’s wild lands and wilderness areas.

Before his speech, Kim McCreery, Regional Director and Staff Scientist for the Alliance had visitors welcome Parsons with a howl.

Parsons was chosen as guest speaker because the event was held to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Mexican gray wolf’s reintroduction project, which Parsons personally jump-started.

Parsons said he got the job in 1990 when he discovered that the New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Service had done nothing to help reintroduce the Mexican gray wolf, which it was legally required to do since the wolf’s identification as an endangered species 14 years earlier in 1976.

He held the position of Recovery Coordinator from 1990 to 1999. In 1998, he said he saw the Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduce 11 Mexican gray wolves.

Parsons took the opportunity to give a brief history of the reintroduction efforts, which he believes have made missteps since his retirement.

“The main reason we don’t see more wolves is that the government has been dragging its heals and making choices that do not lead to successful reintroduction,” he said.

He said that the biggest misstep was in 2004 — after a jump from 11 to 55 wolves since 1998 — when the Fish and Wildlife Service handed control of the reintroduction to a six-state governing body.

By 2008, the number of wolves had dropped from 55 to 39. Then, seeing the problem, the Fish and Wildlife Service took back the reigns and the number has risen again to 75.

“The agency also receives a lot of pressure from special interest groups,” Parsons said. “A lot of the livestock groups, but also the hunting groups. They can’t look at things ecologically and see that the wolf could actually benefit the well-being of the game they hunt. I guess they’re afraid of the competition.”

McCreery was very happy with the event.

“It’s clear that we have a lot of people here who really care about and want the wolf to succeed,” she said. “They want to be informed. They’re asking intelligent questions and, here, getting intelligent answers.”

Benjamin Fisher can be reached at (575) 538-5893 ext. 5803.