By Tom McDonald
In a recent Time magazine article titled “Space Invaders,” senior writer Bryan Walsh reported on how foreign insects, fish and animals are invading the U.S. in alarming numbers. They are upsetting the environmental balance of entire regions and, in several instances, disrupting their economies as well.
In the report, several invasive species (brought in by human activity) were identified according to location and the damage they’re doing.
Of these “invasions,” I recognized only one that has made its way into New Mexico — the feral hog.
The article didn’t mention New Mexico, but I’ve read about problems this animal is causing farmers and ranchers on the east side of the state.
New Mexico does not appear to be a hotspot for these kinds of outside invasions, and that’s a good thing. We’re having enough trouble keeping our own indigenous species alive.
According to the state Department of Game and Fish, in 2012 there were 118 species and subspecies in New Mexico on the list of threatened (vulnerable) and endangered (almost extinct) wildlife. And while efforts to save them don’t always make the news, we’ve had our share of high-profile cases.
The Mexican gray wolf is one that’s been in the news lately, and will be more so later this month and into September. A species that’s pretty much exclusive to Arizona and New Mexico these days, it’s been on the endangered list since 1976 and numbers only 83 in the wild — including 46 in New Mexico — according to the latest count by wildlife officials.
The Blue Ridge Recovery Area, the wolf’s habitat these days, stretches across 4.4 million acres in the Apache and Gila national forests.
After four years of a growing Mexican gray wolf population, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is now proposing changes in the predator’s recovery program. Basically, the agency wants to do two things: expand the wolves’ territory and make it easier to take them out if they start causing problems.
Under the agency’s proposed revisions, the wolf’s recovery area would be expanded to Interstate 40 on the north to the U.S.-Mexico border on the south, across Arizona and New Mexico from their California and Texas state lines.
Already in Arizona, concern has been raised about the plan’s impact on the elk population, while environmentalists are saying the loosening of restrictions on killing problem wolves may send their numbers back down.
Of course, we should protect these critters from extinction — nature’s delicate balances and the principle of stewardship require it — but due consideration should also be given to those who feed and clothe the rest of us. There needs to be a balanced approach.
At first blush, it seems to me that Fish & Wildlife is attempting to strike this balance by expanding the Mexican gray wolf’s territory while also giving ranchers and wildlife agencies more latitude in controlling them.
But since I’m not a southern New Mexico landowner, it’s no skin off my nose to say that, so I’ll await the rebuttal.
In the meantime, we’d better also keep an eye on those invasive species wrecking havoc elsewhere in the U.S. Hopefully they won’t be coming our way anytime soon, but we’d better start planning for their arrival anyway.
Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at: