ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – Media mogul Ted Turner set out years ago to establish a fund to bolster the dwindling populations of everything from falcons and frogs to Mexican gray wolves, using the nearly 2 million acres he owns in a dozen western states as home base for the projects.
Now, one of his New Mexico ranches is caught in a dispute between the state and federal wildlife officials over the management of the endangered wolves.
New Mexico wildlife officials recently denied the Ladder Ranch's bid to renew its permit for holding wolves in captivity as part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's wolf reintroduction program.
That triggered calls for Gov. Susana Martinez to reverse the decision, but ranchers are standing behind the governor. Rallies are planned Tuesday at the capitol.
Environmentalists say the New Mexico Game Commission's decision raises questions about private property rights. "We find it odd and inappropriate for state government to interfere with philanthropic activities conducted responsibly by a private landowner on private lands to offset expenses that otherwise would be borne by taxpayers," a coalition of groups wrote in a letter to Martinez.
The governor's office has remained quiet about the permit decision.
Under the Martinez administration, the state Game and Fish Department pulled out of the wolf-reintroduction program in 2011 and voted to end a trapping ban in wolf territory.
Rules also were adopted last year to require that the commission — not just the department director— approve permits such as the one held by the Ladder Ranch for the past 17 years.
During a meeting this month, commissioners pointed to the ranch's participation in the effort to return Mexican gray wolves to the Southwest. They said they couldn't support renewing the permit because of concerns with the program and the lack of an updated recovery plan for wolves.
Officials with the Turner Endangered Species Fund said while it's frustrating that the plan hasn't been updated since 1982, the Ladder Ranch program should not have been set aside.
"I don't know that tightening the screw that is the Ladder Ranch is the best way to say to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 'Doggone it, you need a recovery plan,' " Mike Phillips, the fund's executive director, told The Associated Press.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said the ranch served as an important location to prepare wolves for release in the wild and for housing wolves that needed to be removed from the wild for livestock kills or other problems. Federal biologists also planned to use the ranch's pens for breeding and raising pups in the coming years.
Despite the commission's decision, the federal agency said it has a responsibility to continue with wolf reintroduction.
The program has been hampered by politics, illegal killings and other factors. Disputes over the program's management have spurred numerous legal actions by environmentalists who want more wolves released, and by ranchers concerned about their livelihoods and safety in rural communities.
Ranchers said Monday they supported the Martinez administration's position on the wolf program, noting the absence of a recovery plan even though wolves have been on the ground in New Mexico and Arizona since 1998.