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Wolf Population Down in '07

The endangered species' numbers in the wild tumbled 12 percent to a total of 52 by the end of December

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Albuquerque Journal
February 8, 2008

By Rene Romo
Journal Southern Bureau

LAS CRUCES— Last year was a rough one for the federally managed recovery of the Mexican gray wolf as the endangered species' numbers in the wild tumbled 12 percent to a total of 52 by the end of December.

The 2007 population decline marked the third time in the last four years that the number of Mexican gray wolves has dropped.

The final 2007 tally also falls short of the program's goal, laid out in a 1996 environmental impact statement, to establish a population of at least 100 wolves in the recovery area by 2006.

At the end of 2006 there were 59 wolves in the 7,000-square-mile recovery area, which includes the Apache National Forest of southeastern Arizona and the Gila National Forest in southwest New Mexico.

Environmentalists called the latest count disappointing and called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the program, to place a moratorium on any more removals or killings of wolves until the population reaches at least 100.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a legal and moral obligation to protect and conserve endangered lobos and restore them to viable populations within their former range," said David Parsons, a biologist with the Albuquerque-based Rewilding Institute and the federal coordinator of the wolf recovery program from 1990 to 1999.

"But the continued authorization of excessive killing and removal of wolves is having the opposite result," he said.

Meanwhile, Dexter resident Michael White, president of the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, a staunch opponent of the wolf reintroduction project, said he viewed the 2007 decline in the wolf population as good news.

"Yeah, because we don't agree with the wolves being there to start with," he said. "It (the wolf) is a danger to the citizens who live in that country."

Federal agents removed 22 wolves from the wild in 2007, compared with 18 in 2006. Of the 22, 19 were targeted for preying on livestock and three of the 19 were shot and killed.

In addition, three other wolves have gone missing and one was illegally killed.

These losses were offset somewhat by births and releases. But since January, two wolf pups have been killed by vehicle traffic, meaning the actual number of wolves in the recovery area today is 50.

"It's extraordinarily worrisome, both in absolute numbers and in breeding pairs," said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity.

The number of breeding pairs of wolves in the wild declined from seven at the end of 2006 to four in December, according to Fish and Wildlife.

Under a program rule known as Standard Operating Procedure 13, a wolf can be removed from the wild— either captured or killed— after it has been linked to three livestock kills in a year.

Gov. Bill Richardson, who called for suspension of SOP 13 last summer, said Thursday he was "deeply frustrated" by the decline in wolf numbers.

"New Mexico's attempts to encourage changes to this program have met with resistance," he said in a statement. "In light of the new population information, we will look for new options to ensure a healthy wolf population living in reasonable balance with our citizens."

John Morgart, the Mexican wolf recovery coordinator, said he was disappointed by the 2007 wolf tally, and that discussions about amending SOP 13 are ongoing.