The Mexican gray wolf was reintroduced into a small area of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico in 1998. While the success of the reintroduction is actually in the midst of a court battle with environmentalists, a volunteer livestock depredation plan successfully completed its first year.
The Mexican Wolf/Livestock Coexistence Council issued its first Payments for Wolf Presence to 26 Arizona and New Mexico livestock operators who qualified for its coexistence plan’s pilot year. The Coexistence Council developed the Mexican Wolf/Livestock Coexistence Plan that presents a new paradigm for addressing wolf-livestock conflicts—one of the most significant impediments to Mexican wolf recovery. Payments for presence of Mexican wolves, the key component of the plan, address the negative financial impacts on livestock producers that accompany Mexican wolf recovery.
“The recovery of the Mexican wolf must be accomplished on a working landscape,” said Benjamin Tuggle, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Southwest Regional Director.
“The Coexistence Council plays a vital role in this recovery effort by supporting the Service’s commitment to achieving a balance of activities that both sustain economically-viable ranching operations, and a self-sustaining wild wolf population.”
In appointing the 11-member volunteer council representing livestock producers, tribes, environmental groups, and counties, the Fish and Wildlife Service recognized the importance of having a local group of people affected by Mexican wolf recovery come to the table to develop a plan that works at the ground level. The innovative Coexistence Plan (announced in March 2014), is comprised of three core strategies: payments for wolf presence; funding for conflict avoidance measures; and continued funding for depredation compensation.
“We’re encouraged that so many livestock producers participated in this pilot year,” said Coexistence Council Chairman Sisto Hernandez. “These payments for presence of Mexican wolves recognize the increased costs to livestock producers that come with recovery of Mexican wolves. In the same manner that farmers receive payments through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program, we think this new concept will begin to help defray those costs.”
The 2013 Payments for Wolf Presence, totaling $85,500, were calculated on a formula that considers a variety of factors, including whether the applicant’s land or grazing lease overlaps a wolf territory or core area (e.g., den or rendezvous area) and the number of wolf pups annually surviving to Dec. 31 in the territory (a bonus point for each pup), recognizing that survival of wolf pups is not dependent upon the livestock producer. The formula also considers the number of livestock exposed to wolves and the applicant’s participation in proactive conflict avoidance measures. The payments this year are based on available funding, not a fully funded program, and do not fully offset the cost of presence of Mexican wolves incurred by livestock producers.
The Coexistence Council developed its plan in recognition of the real economic consequences to livestock producers coexisting with wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. In addition to losses from livestock depredations, livestock producers incur costs from undetected depredations and changes in livestock behavior in response to wolf presence, which can result in a reduction of livestock weight gain, reproductive rates, and meat quality, as well as increased costs tied to managing wolf/livestock interactions.
The Coexistence Plan, and specifically the Payments for Wolf Presence program, creates incentives for ranching in ways that promote self-sustaining Mexican wolf populations, viable ranching operations, and healthy western landscapes.
Seed funding for the Coexistence Plan comes from the Federal Livestock Demonstration Program, which in 2013 provided $20,000 for depredation compensation and $40,000 for preventative measures to Arizona Game and Fish Department, and $20,000 for depredation compensation and $50,000 for preventative measures to the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. These grant funds are matched by inkind contributions through the Mexican Wolf Fund and Defenders of Wildlife providing financial assistance to livestock producers to implement proactive measures to reduce conflicts between Mexican wolves and livestock. Both states have been awarded a combined $190,000 in demonstration program funds for 2014.
“The Arizona Game and Fish Department views the Coexistence Council as a step in the right direction relative to compensating rangeland livestock operators,” said Jim deVos, Game and Fish’s Assistant Director for Wildlife Management. “It is important that those who live and work on the same landscape that wolves occupy are compensated for losses associated with Mexican wolf reintroduction.”
The Coexistence Council continues to seek additional private and public funding, in anticipation of increased rancher participation and potential wolf range expansions.
But for every positive, there is a negative—or at least it often seems that way.
Just prior to the Coexistence Council’s announcement on payments, a group of environmentalists sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for, according to a press release, “repeated failures over the last 38 years to develop a valid recovery plan for the imperiled Mexican gray wolf, one of the most endangered mammals in North America.”
“The opportunity to recover the Mexican gray wolf is slipping away due to genetic problems and inadequate management policies, but the government still hasn’t created the basic recovery blueprint that the law requires,” said Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso, who is representing the groups. “We are asking a judge to order federal officials to develop a scientifically-grounded recovery plan before it is too late.”
Earthjustice is representing Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, retired Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator David R. Parsons, the Endangered Wolf Center and the Wolf Conservation Center. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor