NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – New Mexico is trying to balance a reintroduction of native wolves with the financial security of ranchers. Now, Congress is considering a bill to boost payout to ranchers whose cattle are killed by wolves.
The bill, backed by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, would raise compensation from 75% of the livestock value to 100% of the value of livestock lost. New Mexico Representative Gabe Vasquez, who is supporting the bill says it balances the interests of ranchers with wolf conservation.
“This bipartisan bill strikes the right balance to fully compensate ranchers for livestock loss and decreases in herd size due to wolf depredation in New Mexico and Arizona,” Vasquez said in a press release. “Apex predators like the Mexican gray wolf, native to New Mexico, belong on the land, but have also caused our ranchers significant hardship.”
About the same time the bill was introduced, news broke that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved the killing of a wolf named ‘Rusty.’ The department said that wolf had a history of attacking livestock, but environmental advocates criticized the department.
Yet, solving the issue of wolf-livestock interactions might not be as simple as boosting compensation to ranchers. Greta Anderson, the deputy director for the Western Watersheds Project, says it might take rethinking how we use public lands.
“Perhaps we need to do better,” she told KRQE News 13, noting that the grazing systems that have been employed on public lands might be getting outdated. One potential solution, she added, could be incentivizing ranchers to take their cattle off certain wolf-inhabited lands.
As for this new bill, Anderson said that “compensation should come with strings attached.” That is, ranchers “can’t take the money and demand that there are no wolves.” Anderson added that the federal fee for grazing is only $1.35 per animal month (or lower, depending on the animal), a cheap price that she says comes with the inherent risk of sharing land with wolves.
This isn’t the first time lawmakers have tried to set laws trying to address conflict between wolves and livestock sharing public lands. For example, last year, New Mexico lawmakers introduced the Wildlife-Livestock Conflict Resolution Act, which would let ranchers voluntarily end their grazing permits in order to reduce conflict with wolves. But the bill didn’t make it through Congress.