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By Staci Matlock, The New Mexican
Thursday, November 13, 2014 

In a major policy shift, private landowners in New Mexico will need State Game Commission permission to keep endangered Mexican gray wolves for recovery and reintroduction purposes.

The commission adopted the change unanimously Thursday at a public meeting in Española. Until now, permits have been administratively approved by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish director.

Many see the commission’s action as one more blow to a 15-year effort to recover populations of the Mexican gray wolf, which is on both state and federal endangered species lists. There are currently 83 wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona.

The change also will affect any private landowner seeking a permit to keep endangered black-footed ferrets in captivity for recovery efforts.

Before Thursday’s vote, Game and Fish Department Director Alexandra Sandoval and State Game Commissioner Ralph Ramos said the change would allow more public comment before a permit is granted to keep carnivores on private land. “We are working hard to expand public comment and transparency,” said Ramos, a Las Cruces resident.

But that’s not how many felt at Thursday’s meeting, where more than a dozen people spoke against the change and three for it. More than 300 people had sent letters to the Game and Fish Department in opposition to the change. Some said if the real intention was transparency, then all wildlife permits issued by the department should require commission approval.

“This seems to tie the director’s hands unnecessarily,” said Garrett VeneKlasen, director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, which represents sportsmen. “The Game Commission should direct policy, but not interfere with permits.”

Katherine Eagleson, director of The Wildlife Center near Española, which rehabilitates injured wildlife, said the change was “unnecessary,” time-consuming and would hamper wolf recovery efforts.

But Carlos Chacon of the Northern New Mexico Stockmen’s Association and the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association spoke in favor of the change, saying carnivores affect his private property rights. “I’m concerned about the impact on the safety of my family, my livestock and my ability to enjoy my private property.”

The change in permit approval will become effective Dec. 15, according to Lance Cherry, a spokesman for the Game and Fish Department.

Only two facilities for captive gray wolves for recovery and reintroduction are now permitted in the state: the Ladder Ranch in Southern New Mexico, owned by billionaire philanthropist Ted Turner, and the Wildlife West Nature Park near Edgewood. They won’t be affected by the change until they reapply for permits.

The New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau and the New Mexico Council of Guides and Outfitters also spoke in favor of the change. The Sierra Club and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance spoke against it.

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