A standing-room only crowd opened the Southwest County Commission Alliance meeting Wednesday afternoon in Silver City. They came to give public input on several issues posted on the agenda, although most focused on the Mexican gray wolf recovery program.
The first to give input was Jason Burke, resident, who asked what had happened since the meeting in November—the special meeting in Deming on public lands.
"Changing the meeting date from last week to this week without notice was not good, as you almost had a roomful of people for no meeting," he charged. "It's Grant County Day in Santa Fe. (Commissioner Gabriel) Ramos changed the meeting when he should be in Santa Fe advocating for his constituents." Burke then handed information on the Mexican gray wolf to the commissioners.
Nancy Kaminski, county resident, said she hears a lot the wolves are dangerous. "The wolf is not a vicious killer out to eat people. It mostly preys on elk. Fear is taught, and unreasonable causes of fear are removed by facing up to it and education."
She cited statistics from the most recent USDA records from May 12, 2011. They show that Mexican wolves account for 1.3 percent of total cattle losses, with the No. 1 depredation of cattle by coyotes at 65.2 percent. She said she hopes for a study of the difference in take by coyote outside versus inside wolf territories, as wolves do not tolerate coyotes within their territories.
Kaminski said the No. 1 cause of death in New Mexico cattle is upper respiratory problems at 33.1 percent; digestive problems at 15.1 percent and weather-related, 15. 1 percent. "Even theft outperforms wolves with 3.2 percent."
She said she personally does not want anyone to go out of business because of the wolves. She cited several avenues for non-lethal deterrent methods, which are free of charge to livestock growers within the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. They include guard animals, exclusion fencing, herding, night-penning, fright tactics, livestock carcass removal and frequent checks by range riders.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has a dedicated fund, which is controlled by a livestock-owner stakeholder interdiction council, for livestock losses due to wolf depredation. A federal annual $1 million is also authorized for payments and prevention. She said public lands' grazing fees are set deliberately low to account for increased levels of predation on public land, as compared to private land.
Kaminski said many livestock owners had received the non-lethal methods of dealing with the wolves and have been pleased with the results.
A citizen said he had yet to hear what good a wolf does. "They kill livestock and wildlife. After the wildlife moves away, they do kill livestock. They kill in packs—one grabs the head, one the rear, and they eat the livestock while it's still alive. That's the reason why our grandparents eradicated the wolf."
Joe Delk, from Las Cruces and representing the Council of Border Conservation Districts, commended the commissioners for their efforts "to come together to work on common issues. We, too, are wanting a partnership with federal land management agencies and want to work together for a harmonious outcome on these issues."
Scott Robertson, Silver City resident and business owner, said: "On the surface, I'm not opposed to wolf recovery. I am opposed to the way the recovery is being financed with my taxpayer dollars and the dollars being used to pay for lawsuits. I suggest that those who want the wolf take over the costs of the recovery."
He also suggested the issue be put on county ballots, and then let the counties bear the costs. "It should not be an unfunded mandate from D.C. politicians or New York deep pockets." He alleged that early in the program, recovery personnel were shooting elk to feed the wolves. "They need to sit down with the hunters and discuss it in an amicable way. Nothing is done, but money continues to be thrown at it."
Michelle Littleton, who said she was raised in Catron County and is now a rancher's wife in Grant County, said she used to see wolf tracks, but didn't stay around when she did. "The recovery program is not only an injustice to the ranchers, but also to the wolf. They are raised and fed road kill. The wolves do not have wild characteristics, and they do eat livestock and dogs. What will you do when a wolf gets a small person?"
She said a friend in Catron County has to walk with her son to the bus stop, ever since they saw a wolf in their front yard. "The program is putting our children in danger, just so someone can hear a wolf howl."
Barry Weller, Apache County District 3 supervisor, commended the commissioners for forming the alliance. "The wolf that was just captured in Reserve was released in Arizona. As you know the Gila National Forest is adjacent to the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. I'm here to get educated."
Barbara Fleming, Silver City resident, asked who was part of the alliance. "Are all the commissioners members, and who determines who is here?"
Ramos, said he would answer, although questions are not allowed during public comment.
"We are appointed by our fellow commissioners to represent each county, and yes, all commissioners could attend."
A Grant County resident suggested meetings be held in the evenings, because many cannot attend because they have to work. "As a resident of Grant County for the wolf reintroduction, I find misunderstanding, probably on both sides. What good do (wolves) do? I encourage him to talk to Nancy Kaminski. The wolf is good for our area and everybody. Everybody includes the wildlife. This is my first time to attend this meeting. Mr. Ramos, you say you represent Grant County, but you do not represent my views."
Ed Hinerman, Grant County resident and business owner, said the wolf issue was an emotional one and there are two sides. "Back to Scott's comment. Wolves were here and part of the ecosystem until probably when people showed up. Now there are seven billion people on the planet. The place for the wolf was as a predator, but when they were gone, their need has been filled. Coyotes backfilled the need for other predators. There is a lot of fear about what a predator can do. We invite trouble when we try things without knowing what will happen. A case in point is the pit bull. They were bred to kill and many have mauled and killed people. At any time, with a predator, something terrible can happen. If 'they' want the wolves, they should pay for it or buy the Gila Forest and fence it."
Doyle Shamley of Apache County, Ariz., said a lot of what has been promulgated over the travel management plan has not been open or transparent. "We requested documents on the wolf plan, but they are being withheld. A wolf, which was released in Apache County, stayed there four days, and now has been in New Mexico for two-and-a-half weeks. We requested notification of its travel, but have not received notice of its movement. If the program cannot be run on the up and up, it should be abolished."
Ken Keppler of Silver City pointed out that only one person had statistics on the wolf program. "There are a lot of other predators, such as mountain lions and bears and rattlesnakes. I'd be more worried about them."
Mark Miller, property owner in Grant and Catron counties, said his friend, Mr. McBride caught the wolves in Mexico for the recovery program. He caught only seven. The agreement was that the wolves would never be bred, but they were sent to the Ghost Ranch or Carlsbad and the program went on and bred them and now there are hybrid wolves. "I would think that those who support wolves would want a pure strain."
Kathleen Anderson said she was confused. "I had not attended meetings, and I'm generally not involved in causes, but I've been involved in processes and facilitated discussions in Alaska, on the wolf, the goshawk, timber, the Forest Service and others. The public process was always balanced with individuals who had information about both sides. I understand this is an alliance of county commissioners, discussing issues such as wolves, water and timber. You are creating a community of divisiveness, and also the issues are not put to the public to vote. You are creating an aura of distrust. Your personal interests are involved. I see you, Mr. Ramos, nodding in agreement when there is wolf opposition, but not when the speaker is in agreement with the wolf program."
Nick Prince, an almost two-year resident of Silver City, said he recently found out about the meetings. "Seeing both sides is inspiring. The public input, I hope is going toward discussion. There are strong opinions on both sides. It would be a loss if there were no reconciliation."
At the end of public input, Ramos said the alliance has covered a lot of issues, including regarding jails, juvenile probation, water, Forest service, solid waste management and others. "People only stay for the part they want to and don't listen to the rest of the issues. We do encourage public input and listen to it."
The business portion of the meeting will be covered in a subsequent article.