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For Immediate Release, February 1, 2011

Contacts:  Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity, (575) 534-0360
Eva Sargent, Defenders of Wildlife (520) 623-9653 x 4
Geoff Hickcox, Western Environmental Law Center, (970) 382-5902

Livestock Growers, Counties Withdraw Lawsuit to Eradicate Gray Wolves From New Mexico

SILVER CITY, N.M.—  Plaintiffs in a lawsuit that asked the federal government to remove endangered Mexican gray wolves from the wild in New Mexico have now filed a motion seeking voluntary dismissal of their suit without prejudice, meaning that they could refile a similar suit later. This is the third unsuccessful suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service attempting to undermine the Mexican wolf recovery program. In this case, the plaintiffs are Catron and Otero counties, two livestock-industry associations and three ranching operations with grazing permits in the Gila National Forest.

“This lawsuit was entirely without merit; the plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss their own suit suggests they realize neither the law nor the facts are on their side,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, which intervened in the lawsuit in support of the government together with Defenders of Wildlife. “With only a few dozen Mexican wolves struggling to survive in the wild, a new rash of federal trapping and shooting would push this unique animal even closer to extinction.”

Only 52 Mexican wolves, including just two breeding pairs, survive in the New Mexico and Arizona wild, according to figures released today by the Fish and Wildlife Service. These include two previously captured animals who were released back to the wild this year. The 1998 reintroduction aimed to establish at least 100 wolves in the wild by 2006, including a projected 18 breeding pairs, but federal trapping and shooting and illegal killings have kept wolf numbers low.

“We’re glad that wolf opponents have withdrawn their latest lawsuit,” said Eva Sargent with Defenders of Wildlife, “because the best place to solve conflicts between livestock and wolves is in the field. That’s why Defenders of Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the states are working with ranchers on projects that promote coexistence, helping to prevent conflicts between livestock and wolves from happening in the first place.”

Only nine confirmed livestock depredations by Mexican wolves occurred in 2010, and the owners were reimbursed. Tellingly, the Middle Fork and San Mateo wolf packs targeted in the suit, long ago turned their attentions from cattle to elk.

“This recent attempt to undermine the Mexican wolf reintroduction program is only the latest in a series of similar lawsuits,” said Geoff Hickcox, attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center, representing the interveners in the lawsuit. “It demonstrates the need for wolf advocates to be ever vigilant in their efforts not only to improve the conditions under which this endangered species is making its way back into the wild, but also to defend against others’ efforts to disrupt the reintroduction program.”

Legal Background
The lawsuit, which alleged violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, also originally targeted the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. But in December 2010, U.S. District Judge Robert C. Brack dismissed the state defendant from the suit in a sharply worded order that presaged the plaintiffs’ legal difficulties against the federal defendant: “Plaintiffs cite no controlling authority and their authorities are inconsistent with Tenth Circuit precedent,” wrote Judge Brack. He also wrote that the plaintiffs “do not allege sufficient facts to state a plausible claim as to the State Defendants.”

A December 2010 federal motion to dismiss claims against defendant Fish and Wildlife Service read: “[N]ot one of these allegations claims that one of the depredation events occurred on one of the Plaintiffs’ or Plaintiffs’ members’ ranches. On the contrary, Plaintiffs allege depredations that occurred on ranches or allotments other than the Plaintiffs’ ranches.”

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