The U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure Thursday that would end the federal government’s Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program in New Mexico and Arizona and put management of the endangered species in the hands of state officials — a move that advocates of the wolves say would ensure the animals’ extinction.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., who has long been critical of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s management of the Mexican gray wolf program, introduced the measure as an amendment to a $32 billion spending bill for the Interior Department and other agencies. Pearce’s amendment targeting the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse also was included in the final version of the House bill, which takes aim at several of the Obama administration’s environment policies.
The bill would block the Bureau of Land Management’s pending regulations to reduce methane emissions and the bureau’s restrictions on hydraulic fracturing, an oil-drilling technique also known as fracking, as well as some recent provisions of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Rule.
Pearce, members of the state’s ranching community and the oil and gas industry said the legislation would liberate New Mexicans from strains imposed by the Obama administration and would help protect the state’s economy and jobs.
“This Administration’s consistent overreach has does nothing but hurt New Mexico’s economy,” Pearce said in a statement following the vote.
“[The Fish and Wildlife Service] has consistently proven its inability to manage the Mexican Wolf program in New Mexico,” he added. “… It is time to give this program back to the States.”
As part of the bill, which passed 231-196 with just three Democrats voting in favor, the Fish and Wildlife Service would be prohibited from supplying any funds to the Mexican gray wolf’s recovery under the Endangered Species Act.
The legislation comes just days after the release of a federal investigation that found shortcomings in the agency’s wolf recovery program in the Gila Wilderness.
“The wolf program has been a complete disaster for the families that have to live on the ground with those wolves,” said Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association. She said ranchers feel they have no recourse from the thousands of dollars lost when livestock is hunted by wolves.
Cowan said the amendment is “a recognition of how bad a situation ranchers in New Mexico and the West are in under the heavy arm of the federal government.”
Mexican gray wolves have been an especially heated and litigious subject over the past two years. With just 47 wolves counted in New Mexico at the end of 2015 and about 50 in Arizona, the Fish and Wildlife Service released a management plan and proceeded with the release of two wolf pups in New Mexico in April, without the consent of the state. The state, which had twice objected to wolf releases by the federal government, filed a restraining order against the agency, and a federal judge agreed that no further releases can occur without a state permit.
But many say these actions are part of a systematic attack on the wolves’ survival.
Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn,., said Wednesday that the amendment was an “attack on the species.”
A Facebook group in support of Mexican gray wolves, with close to 1.2 million supporters, asked members to write to lawmakers to express their opposition before the measure is considered in the Senate.
Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said that without endangered species protections, there would be little to prevent the hunting, trapping and shooting of the wolves.
Even with the existing protections in place, two Mexican wolves were shot in New Mexico and two in Arizona over the past two months alone.
“All of the these very powerful institutions could be aiming their firepower at the few dozen wolves that are left,” Robinson said.
The Obama administration released a nine-page statement earlier this week decrying the bill, saying it underfunds key Interior Department programs and operations. It says the resolution undermines partnerships between the federal government, states and tribes; would make it difficult to reduce carbon emissions nationally; and includes “unacceptable provisions” that compromise national treasures and wildlife.
In addition to the Mexican gray wolf, the bill cuts funding for protections for other endangered species: the greater sage grouse, the lesser prairie chicken and the New Mexican meadow jumping mouse.
Bryan Bird of Defenders of Wildlife said the endangered mouse is the “canary in the coal mine” for the health of New Mexico’s rivers and streams.
“The mouse can’t suffer politics,” he said. “The mouse doesn’t have that kind of time.”
But Pearce said protections for the mouse infringe on the water rights of the ranching community and limit their livelihood. He said in his statement that the need to protect the mouse is based on insufficient science.
Pearce also supported an amendment in the bill that would prevent the federal government from adopting methane regulations, saying the “venting and flaring rule and the BLM’s Hydraulic Fracturing rule … would both be devastating to New Mexico energy production and jobs.”
New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn also opposed the regulations earlier this year, and he said Thursday, via spokeswoman Emily Strickler, that while he had yet to review the bill, it could “potentially impact much-needed revenues to our public school children and other State Trust Land beneficiaries.”
Wally Drangmeister, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, agreed, saying, “The success of the oil and natural gas industry in New Mexico is crucial to the overall economic success of the state.”
But New Mexico’s Democratic congressional delegation, as well as other state and local elected officials, have expressed support for the BLM’s proposed methane rule. Nationwide, more than 200,000 people have commented in support of the rule, saying it will bring money into the state and is crucial to public health and the environment.
“Cutting funding to advance rules to reduce methane pollution and waste is counter to what New Mexicans want,” said Liliana Castillo of Conservation Voters New Mexico.
“Natural resource use is what’s under attack,” she said. “What is happening to agriculture and ranching is the same thing that is happening to the extraction industry, so if we don’t stand together, we are all going to fall.”