Give Gov. Bill Richardson a hand for lending one to the still-struggling Mexican gray wolf: This week he ordered a temporary ban on animal trapping in our state's part of the Blue Mountain wolf-recovery area. It's to last six months, while state biologists figure out what risks traps and snares pose to wolves.
For doing so, his critics are likely to issue word-play lines about him looking after himself — but this was just the latest of many seven-league strides Richardson has made on the environmental front during 71/2 years in the Governor's Office, and in Congress before that.
The Mexican gray, an endangered subspecies, was reintroduced to the New Mexico-Arizona borderlands in the late 1990s. By now, figured the federal wildlife officials who trucked a few animals into the Gila River basin, their population should have grown to about 100.
They reckoned without the region's taxpayer-subsidized ranchers or other two-legged enemies of canis lupus: As this year began, there were only 42 of the wolves. Since June, three have been found dead — two of them shot. In recent years, 14 have been trapped or snared — 12 in New Mexico. Five were injured, two of those so badly they required amputation.
If ranchers had anything to do with the trap injuries, there was irony in the infliction: Injured wolves might have a harder time bringing down a deer or an elk — so those grazing-lease livestock become more appealing.
It's possible that the people preying on wolves aren't ranchers — since they're not supposed to shoot wolves to save their stock; deadly force is limited to saving human lives.
But the cowboys are potential beneficiaries of those shooting and trapping the wolves: Packs of them pick on cattle from time to time.
However, the federal government, as well as the environmentalist group Defenders of Wildlife, have programs to pay stockgrowers for such depredation.
Such compensation systems depend on ranchers' willingness to take part — and some are less willing than others to buy into a wolf-reintroduction project they think is crazy, even dangerously so.
A pioneering effort by Santa Fe's WildEarth Guardians seeks to compensate ranchers for giving up their grazing permits. The local group is in pursuit of its first agreement. It would be a promising start toward freeing the forests for wildlife.
A more immediate effort by Guardians has been its petition to federal agencies to ban trapping — which, they figure, is part of the campaign to keep wolves at the edge of annihilation, where they've been for a century or so.
The governor's response to the rash of trapping is the right one; the feds should follow his lead.
The Santa Fe New Mexican