ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — Conservationists want the US government to list coyotes as endangered in parts of Arizona and New Mexico where North America’s rarest gray wolf subspecies is found.
A coalition of groups says in a petition submitted Thursday to U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that small-bodied Mexican gray wolves are often mistaken for coyotes and that protecting coyotes would in turn reduce wolf mortality.
Conservationists say illegal killings are the leading cause of death for endangered animals.
The petition reports instances in which Mexican wolves have been killed by people who said they believed they were killing a coyote. This misidentification invokes a federal policy that effectively protects a person from prosecution because it requires the government to prove that a defendant knew they were killing an endangered species when they pulled the trigger.
“It’s an outrage that just saying, ‘I thought it was a coyote,’ serves as a get-out-of-jail card for anyone who shoots one of these highly endangered animals,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity.
Ranchers say there are more Mexican wolves roaming the southwest now than ever since the recovery began more than two decades ago, and rural communities continue to bear the costs of livestock losses due to the reintroduction of wolves.
Loren Patterson, president of the New Mexico Cattlemen’s Association, said Thursday that his group learned last week that Mexican wolves were located north of Interstate 40 as well as in the Manzano Mountains near New Mexico. ‘Albuquerque.
As the wolf population grows, more human interactions and accidental wolf deaths are to be expected, Patterson said.
“Hindering our recreational and agricultural communities by protecting an unregulated furbearer is unwarranted,” he said. “The ranching industry is still not cured by wolf depredations and adding the inability to control problematic coyote populations would only add to a tense situation between endangered species and people. who live in the recovery area.”
He suggested that real-time location maps of collared wolves, education of hunters and reimbursement of the full value of livestock killed by wolves would be better options to address the problem.
While the petition acknowledges that it is unknown how many Mexican gray wolves are killed in cases of real or suspected mistaken identity, environmental groups argue that publications and posters encouraging hunters to learn the difference have not not helped.
There are at least 196 Mexican gray wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona, according to the most recent survey. This is the sixth consecutive year that the population has increased.
Under the Endangered Species Act, federal wildlife officials can decide to protect a species that is neither endangered nor threatened when it closely resembles an endangered or threatened species. .
A key consideration would be the degree of difficulty wildlife officers and other law enforcement personnel would have in distinguishing species. The petition refers to a case in 2013 in which a wildlife specialist shot and killed a wolf, thinking it was a coyote.
Coyotes can be hunted year-round in Arizona and New Mexico without the need for a hunting license.
Republican Sen. Crystal Diamond of Elephant Butte raised her daughters on a ranch in wolf territory and she said she knows firsthand the challenges facing southwestern New Mexico. She called the coyote proposal absurd, saying environmentalists have tried to weaponize the Endangered Species Act and such proposals make it harder to find common ground.
“What this does is further discredit the value and intent of what the Endangered Species Act was created to do,” she said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service must decide whether to review the petition.
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