Jul 6, 2023 - World

Battle over Mexican wolf highlights Hispanic ranchers' woes

A female Mexican gray wolf runs around inside a holding pen at the Sevilleta Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.

A female Mexican gray wolf in New Mexico's Sevilleta Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The plight of a female Mexican gray wolf who recently traveled into historically Hispanic ranching territory highlights the battle pitting environmentalists against ranchers.

The big picture: Hispanic ranchers in the Southwest have been at odds for centuries with the federal government around grazing and water rights. Conservation efforts for endangered species are adding to tensions.

Details: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services announced last month it had relocated an endangered female Mexican gray wolf back into the Arizona wild after she traveled some 500 miles into ranch lands near Taos, New Mexico — well beyond the area where packs are designated to live.

  • Those ranch lands are governed by land grants from colonial Spain and protected under the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo — but ranchers say the government ignores their rights in the name of conservation.
  • The female wolf isn't known to have caused damage, but her travels generated fear among some Hispanic ranchers that the population was growing more than previously reported, David Sanchez of the Northern New Mexico Stockmen's Association tells Axios.

Catch up fast: The Mexican wolf, or lobo, once roamed from central and northern Mexico to western Texas, southern New Mexico, and central Arizona until it was eradicated by trapping, hunting, and poisoning to protect livestock.

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the wolf as an endangered species in May 1976, and it was considered extinct in the wild.
  • In 1998, the agency reintroduced the wolf into a designated area in Arizona and New Mexico. There were 241 Mexican wolves in the two states as of February.

What they're saying: Ranchers complain that the predators sometimes kill livestock and that the federal government doesn't adequately compensate them for lost income, said Sanchez, a rancher who lives outside of Chama, New Mexico.

  • "The Fish and Wildlife are releasing them with no regard to the impacts that they're having on the ranching industry."
  • "It's all part of an attack on the Hispanic ranching community, basically, since the Treaty of Guadalupe when all of these lands are taken over by the government."

Carlos Salazar, a rancher in Medanales, New Mexico, says every time a species is listed as endangered or threatened, ranchers face smaller land and water allotments, making it harder to earn a living.

  • "It's the jumping mouse one day. It's the Mexican spotted owl the next. It's always something," says Salazar.

The other side: The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group, has argued that wolves and other species add to the wildlife diversity of a fragile ecosystem.

  • Michael Robinson, the group's senior conservation advocate, criticized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for not allowing the wolves to expand their habitat and has been critical of the agency for not releasing more wolves from different packs to expand the gene pool.

In a statement, U.S. Fish and Wildlife said the decision to relocate the wolf was "consistent with policies outlined in the Service's Recovery Permit."

  • "The lack of other wolves in the area meant there was no chance for female wolf 2754 to breed and contribute to Mexican wolf recovery."
Female Mexican wolf 2754 was given a health check and fitted with a new collar before being released back into the wild.
A female Mexican gray wolf is given a health check and fitted with a new collar before being released back into the wild. Photo courtesy of the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team

Between the lines: Hispanic ranchers and farmers are facing many pressures threatening their way of life, Luis M. Terrazas, a New Mexico Republican state lawmaker, tells Axios.

  • Few people are getting into traditional ranching, drought is raising costs and long-standing conflicts with the U.S. government have not been resolved.
  • "They feed the nation and they are not getting the support. It's almost like the federal government doesn't want them there."

Subscribe to Axios Latino to get vital news about Latinos and Latin America, delivered to your inbox on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Go deeper