By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN Associated Press Writer
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—Conservationists have won a battle with the federal government over information they say will help improve a troubled program aimed at returning North America’s rarest gray wolf to the Southwest.
A federal judge this week ordered the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to release specific information on the locations of conflicts between livestock and the Mexican gray wolves that are roaming New Mexico and Arizona as part of a reintroduction effort.
Conservationists applauded the decision, saying the coordinates will help determine if there are any problem areas and whether steps can be taken to limit wolf contact with livestock in those areas.
“One key to being able to devise preventative measures is finding out where these problems are taking place and some of the specific circumstances that led to wolves preying on livestock,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Mexican wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf, was exterminated in the wild in the Southwest by the 1930s. In 1998, the government began reintroducing wolves along the Arizona-New Mexico line in a 4 million-acre territory.
There are now about 50 wolves in the wild, but that’s half of what biologists had hoped to have by now.
The reintroduction effort has been hampered by illegal shootings, complaints from ranchers who have lost cattle to the wolves and removal of wolves that have violated the program’s three-strikes rule. Federal agents can kill or trap and remove any wolf that has been involved in three livestock kills within a year.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act more than a year ago for all records relating to the capture of Mexican gray wolves over the past decade.
Wildlife Services turned over the documents but not information that would have shown the specific locations of livestock-wolf conflicts. The agency cited concerns for landowner privacy.
The groups argued that grazing allotments can cover thousands of acres and simply knowing the city where the ranch gets its mail would not help in determining where the conflicts were happening.
In light of the public’s interest in how the government manages the wolf program, the judge ruled that releasing the specific coordinates of conflicts would not violate landowner privacy.
Wildlife Services is reviewing the court order, and spokeswoman Brienne Lang said she could not comment further.
While ranchers believe hundreds of cattle have been killed by wolves since the start of the reintroduction program, Robinson contends the animals don’t get into trouble in most of the areas they roam within the Gila and Apache national forests.
“Being able to identify the places where they do get into trouble can mean that we can change the circumstances that lead to that,” he said.
This story ran in the Las Cruces Sun-News:
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