Agency probes wolf-baiting claims
Already stained by the blood of dead wolves and suffering from a variety of other setbacks, the program to reintroduce endangered Mexican gray wolves to the Southwest is now at the center of two criminal investigations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is formally looking into the disappearance of two wolves in New Mexico and a rancher’s claim that he intentionally baited wolves in order to get them killed.
“We had requests that we do a criminal investigation, and we are,” says agency spokeswoman Elizabeth Slown. In an interview last year, New Mexico ranch hand Mike Miller told High Country News that he deliberately baited a wolf with cattle in order to trigger the federal “three strikes” rule, which mandates the shooting or capturing of any wolf that kills three cows in one year’s time.
Miller works for the 275,000-acre Adobe-Slash Ranch, which is owned by Mexican businessman Eloy Vallina. Miller, who has an unlisted number, could not be reached for comment, and Gene Whetten, his supervisor, declined to answer questions when contacted by HCN on Feb. 26.
“Mr. Miller works for me and he’s forbidden to talk to you,” Whetten says. He alleges that the paper “fabricated” most of its story, and that the ranch is considering legal action against HCN.
The criminal investigations face significant challenges, according to a Fish and Wildlife source. In interviews with law enforcement officials, Miller reportedly denied making the statements attributed to him by HCN. Furthermore, according to the Interior Department, the fact that Miller branded cattle on private land within half a mile of a known wolf den does not in itself violate federal wolf reintroduction rules, which give ranchers wide leeway in how they operate even when wolves are nearby.
“The corral is located on private land and use of it for working cattle in this manner is consistent with annual ranch operations,” Interior Deputy Director Kenneth Stansell said in a Feb. 22 letter to environmentalists....