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Mexican gray wolf

Albuquerque Journal, May 18, 2010

Wolf Program To Be Revamped
By Rene Romo

LAS CRUCES — Key changes to the 12-year-old Mexican gray wolf reintroduction effort, such as the direct release of captive-bred wolves into New Mexico, could be on the horizon with the completion of an evaluation of the federally managed program.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this month issued a 130-page report assessing the status of the wolf reintroduction project that will "form the foundation" for an updated recovery plan for the endangered species, said Benjamin Tuggle, director of the FWS Southwest region.

The recovery plan will be developed after a team of biologists and government officials is convened later this year.
The plan is expected to include recommended changes to current rules that, critics say, have hampered the growth of the wolf population. One such rule requires the capture of wolves that wander outside the boundaries of the 7,000-square-mile recovery area in southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico. Another rule limits the new introduction of wolves to a primary zone in Arizona, and prohibits new releases in New Mexico. Those rules were both criticized in earlier three- and five-year reviews.

The recovery plan could also, for the first time, establish a formal goal for the wild wolf population, which fell to 42 at the end of 2009.
The 42-wolf tally marked a 20-percent decline from the previous year and was the lowest count since 2002. Before federal officials released wolves in southeast Arizona in 1998, studies projected there would be more than 100 wolves in the wild by 2006.

"That was a real wake-up call to us," said Fish and Wildlife spokesman Tom Buckley of the 2009 count. "We are determined to get that turned around as quickly as possible. There will not be any foot-dragging on (the recovery plan)."

Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity called the assessment "a clarion call to action before it's too late for the Mexican wolf, and that moment is approaching perilously fast."

Environmentalists for years have criticized federal officials for what they say are heavy-handed management practices, such as a now-discarded rule that required wolves to be removed from the wild if they killed three cattle in one year.

Ranchers have criticized Fish and Wildlife for not removing more wolves suspected of killing livestock and pets or wolves that roam close to homes and people in the recovery area.

Buckley said the draft recovery plan is not expected to be finished until next year at the earliest.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton