A U.S. District Court on Monday dismissed a lawsuit alleging the director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the chairman of the State Game Commission violated the federal Endangered Species Act by allowing trapping in the recovery area of the Mexican gray wolf.
U.S. Magistrate Lorenzo Garcia ruled that the environmental activist organization WildEarth Guardians failed to present facts showing the defendants’ actions directly or indirectly caused trappings or taking of wolves. The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled.
Department Director Jim Lane, who was named in the lawsuit with State Game Commission Chairman Jim McClintic, hailed the decision as a sportsmen’s victory for “real conservationists,” state authority over wildlife management, and the integrity of the Endangered Species Act.
“We fought aggressively to defeat this frivolous lawsuit,” Lane said. “We are happy with the outcome. It’s unfortunate we had to spend hunters’, anglers’ and trappers’ dollars to win it rather than leveraging those same dollars toward on-the-ground conservation of New Mexico’s wildlife.”
Several organizations intervened as defendants in the case, including the New Mexico Trappers Association, New Mexico Council of Outfitters & Guides, New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau, Coalition of Arizona/New Mexico Counties for Stable Economic Growth, United Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, New Mexico Wool Growers, and New Mexico Federal Lands Council. The Arizona Game and Fish Commission filed an amicus brief in support of the department’s position.
WildEarth Guardians filed the lawsuit in February 2012, challenging an action by the State Game Commission that lifted a ban on trapping in southwestern New Mexico where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced the endangered wolves. The organization asserted that by lifting the trapping ban imposed by Gov. Bill Richardson in 2010, the agency and commission violated the Endangered Species Act by creating a system that could kill or harm the wolves.
The court ruled that WildEarth Guardians lacked evidence and failed to present facts to support its case.
The group could not support its assertion that trapping – by legal or illegal means – posed a significant threat to Mexican wolf populations, nor could it convince the court that the Department of Game and Fish or the State Game Commission were responsible for trapping-related wolf mortalities caused by third parties – trappers.
Although listed as an endangered species, Mexican Wolves are considered an “experimental, nonessential population,” which means the species lacks rigid no-take prohibitions. The species was reintroduced to southwestern New Mexico in 1998, with a goal of reaching a population of 100. The current known population is about 58 Mexican wolves in the wild.
Logo courtesy New Mexico Department of Game and Fish