The Catron County Commission has lodged a complaint alleging that state Game and Fish Department biologists tried to alter the finding of a federal investigation into a cow's cause of death.
At stake in the verdict by Wildlife Services, a U.S. Department of Agriculture agency, is whether the cow's owner can receive compensation for the loss.
If Wildlife Services confirms that a cow was killed by a Mexican gray wolf, an endangered species, a rancher can be reimbursed $747. But if the finding is not definite, if a wolf kill is only considered "probable," the rancher is not eligible for compensation.
According to Catron County officials, two Wildlife Services employees, as well as the county's own "wolf incident investigator," concurred that a cow discovered Jan. 18 near the Arizona border had been killed by a wolf. Catron County officials allege Game and Fish biologists sought to change that conclusion to a "probable" wolf kill.
According to Catron County's own news release issued this week, Game and Fish Director Tod Stevenson denied that his staff tried to modify the Wildlife Services finding from "confirmed" to "probable" wolf kill, but simply suggested federal personnel take into account the presence of feral dogs in the area of the cow carcass.
The Game and Fish Department is looking into the matter, but administrators won't discuss the case at this time, said spokesman Lance Cherry.
In response to emailed questions, Alan May, Wildlife Service's New Mexico director, said the exchange between his staff and Game and Fish employees in the case "was appropriate."
During their meeting April 6, Catron County commissioners complained about the matter to Stevenson and two Game Commission members. The Catron commission in late February also filed a complaint with Gov. Susana Martinez asking for a review of the Game and Fish biologists' actions.
"We have taken a no-wolf stand," Catron County Commission Chairman Hugh McKeen said in a written statement directed at the governor. "I'm requesting that you take a no-wolf stance, too."
Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said members of the governor's staff discussed Catron County's concerns with Game and Fish staff, adding: "We have instructed the Department of Game and Fish that this is a federal issue and DGF should not be playing such a role in the federal (wolf) repopulation efforts."
May said that in trying to determine the cause of a domesticated animal's death, Wildlife Services personnel "routinely solicit input from others," including Game and Fish employees, "in order to ensure that the most informed decision is made."
A private conservation group, Defenders of Wildlife, stopped paying ranchers compensation for wolf depredations last year; the group paid $19,203 to eight individuals in 2009 for wolf depredation claims.