Mexican wolf goes back in crosshairs

The Mexican gray wolf has found its way back into the courtroom. A consortium of interests is fighting to return wolf trapping and hunting to the New Mexico backcountry.

Once indigenous to the region, wolves were almost completely eradicated from the American West by the 1950s. The animals were eliminated largely for the benefit of the livestock industry, and most ranchers and farmers remain strongly opposed to the idea of returning the canids to the region.

The wolf continues to face a desperate path south of the Colorado border, where the Mexican wolf reintroduction has foundered for more than a decade. In 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took a step toward improving the odds for the Mexican gray wolf. The service agreed to reassume the lead in the recovery effort and end the controversial “wolf-control” rule, where an animal suspected of killing three cattle in a year would be killed.

In response to this, New Mexico’s Catron and Otero counties, two livestock industry associations and three ranching outfits have sued the Fish and Wildlife Service and New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The plaintiffs allege that the settlement violated the National Environmental Policy Act, and they seek the ability to resume trapping and hunting of the endangered animals.

Represented by the Durango-based Western Environmental Law Center, the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife have intervened in the “frivolous” lawsuit.

“We are intervening in part to prevent any settlement agreement that would rid our public lands of the Mexican gray wolf. In order for wolf recovery to be successful, it’s vital that we keep political forces from influencing what should be a science-based process,” said Michael Robinson, of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Eva Sargent, of the Defenders of Wildlife, added, “The Fish and Wildlife Service made the right call when it stopped wolf removals. We are intervening on the side of the Fish and Wildlife Service to defend that decision, so the service can move forward with developing a science-based plan with clear goals for wolf recovery. With the Mexican wolf on the edge of extinction, every effort must be made to keep wolves in the wild and bolster the population.”

The Mexican wolf is flirting with extinction in the Southwest. At last count in January 2010, biologists found just 42 Mexican gray wolves and only two breeding pairs in Arizona and New Mexico. The population dropped by 19 percent between 2009-10 and is a far cry from the Fish and Wildlife Service’s projection of 102 wolves by the end of 2006. In May this year, the service acknowledged that the Mexican wolf reintroduction was “at risk of failure.”

Counties challenge ‘Fourteener Fee’

Colorado’s proposed “Fourteener Fee” has been dealt a setback. Two Colorado counties have objected to a proposed fee for climbing four of Colorado’s prized fourteeners.

Early this year, the Forest Service announced plans to start charging climbers and hikers a fee – $10/person to hike and $20/person to camp – in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains’ heavily trafficked South Colony Basin. The Basin accesses four fourteeners, including Crestone Needle and Kit Carson Peak, and would have been the first such fee in Colorado.

However, the new fee is not going on the books without objections. Both Custer County, on the east side of the Sangre de Cristos, and Saguache County on the west, sent letters asking the Forest Service to reconsider due to heavy public opposition.

“We want the USFS to work together with local governments, advocacy groups and our public to find a compromise ... that helps support everyone’s needs,” the Custer County letter stated.

The moves earned the applause of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, which is based in Durango. Kitty Benzar, Coalition president, noted that without the counties’ support, the Fourteener Fee stands little chance of survival. “The fee proposal would need to be approved by a statewide advisory committee that is obligated to confirm that it has general public support,” she explained. “With both of the affected counties declining to give their support, the Forest Service has little likelihood of getting committee approval.”

Opponents also expressed concern that the South Colony Basin fee would be just the first of many for Colorado’s fourteeners.  “There are better and more equitable ways to manage heavy use, and I hope, now that access fees are off the table, that the Forest will be more open to those alternatives,” Benzar said.

Youth Soccer emphasizes service

Local soccer players are stepping it up for the local community. The Durango Youth Soccer Association has created an outlet for community outreach and service for its young players – “Go Out And Lead” or GOAL.

In partnership with the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, the DYSA recently introduced the GOAL program to encourage players to be leaders off the soccer pitch and give something back.

“Over the years several teams have stepped up to volunteer for service projects that they found rewarding and also a team-building opportunity,” said Kate Stahlin, DYSA Director of Coaching. “We were looking to give every DYSA player the opportunity to lead off the pitch and find value in their talents to help someone else. It is our hope to provide an environment that will allow for the teaching those ‘life lessons’ that we so often take for granted.”

More than 13 DYSA teams have completed service projects this fall, including trash clean up at area parks, highways and trails; yard work for the elderly; and volunteering time for at the soup kitchen, Adaptvie Sports and the Humane Society.

Local bike corral removed for winter

Durango’s beloved bike corral is going into hibernation for the winter. On Monday, the City of Durango removed the corral, located in the parking spot on Main Avenue in front of Carver Brewing Co. The corral made its first appearance this spring and the new “parking lot” was routinely full with an average of 10 to 15 bikes.

Bike commuting freed up an estimated 22,000 to 33,000 parking space hours this summer, according to the City. In addition, Carvers reported that July was the most profitable month in the brewpub’s 24-year history and attributed some of the increase to the corral. The City will reinstall the corral next May.

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
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January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows