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New Mexico ranchers' use of technology to track wolves debated

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By Chris Roberts

EL PASO -- Should ranchers have access to the technology that allows humans to track endangered Mexican gray wolves?

One advocacy group says no, given that the number of Mexican wolves living in the wild in the Southwest has dropped from 42 to 39 in recent weeks.

Radio-telemetry receivers used by ranchers to track Mexican wolves in New Mexico and Arizona should be returned to federal wildlife authorities, according to the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, which is worried about illegal killings of the vanishing predator.

"In addition, the government should assume the wolves' radio-collar frequencies have been compromised and should change the frequencies to prevent any tracking of the wolves via privately owned telemetry receivers," wrote Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. Robinson's letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was the center's second effort in a little more than two years to have the equipment returned.

Ranchers, though, say they use the equipment to locate dead cattle, not to hunt wolves.

Finding the location of a collared wolf with the receiver is not an exact science, said Laura Schneberger, who has a ranch on the north edge of New Mexico's Gila National Forest,  where Mexican wolves are trying to establish packs. Schneberger, president of the Gila Livestock Growers, said the receivers have been used on her ranch.

"If you are on a ranch with 42 square miles, you're going to need that monitor," Schneberger said. "It will get you in that general area, then you look for buzzards. You use it to make sure the wolves are out of the cows. They (wolves) know you're coming way before you get there and find what they've been eating."

Robinson, who works out of the center's Silver City office, said the receivers can be used to pinpoint the wolves.

"As you get closer the telemetry signals get stronger," he said. "The population is getting gunned down one by one, for the most part."

Reintroduction advocates say the dwindling population means each lost wolf shrinks the gene pool. About 300 Mexican wolves are in captivity, in addition to the 39 in the wild.

Research indicates inbreeding is causing smaller litters and lower survival rates for pups, Robinson said. That could signal the end for a creature that once roamed large areas of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico.

The most pointed argument for retrieving the receivers, advocates say, is the fact that illegal shooting has been the main cause of death for the Mexican gray wolf since its reintroduction in 1998.

A total of 75 wolves have been released, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife data. Some of those wolves had pups that reached maturity. Thirty-five were shot illegally. Three have been killed since the beginning of June, said Tom Buckley, a Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman. Vehicles hitting wolves accounted for 12 deaths, which was the second-largest category.

Robinson said another 46 wolves, all but three with radio collars, have disappeared. Sometimes batteries die, but in 2009, two animals with collars dropped off the radar between weekly surveys, which suggests they were illegally killed, Robinson said. ...

To read the full article, published in the El Paso Times on August 16, 2010, and submit a comment, click here.

Please write a letter to the editor of the El Paso Times calling for the retrieval of radio-telemetry receivers from anyone who is not a government employee responsible for protecting and recovering the wolves, or a scientist studying Mexican wolves: http://www.elpasotimes.com/townhall/ci_14227323

To download a reward poster offering up to $60,000 for information about anyone illegally killing a Mexican gray wolf, click here.