More than 70 members of Congress wrote to the Obama Administration last week requesting that the gray wolf be removed from the endangered species list, including in Arizona and New Mexico, where a subspecies of 75 critically endangered Mexican gray wolves live.
Some of the Mexican gray wolves in region, called the Blue Range Wolf Reintroduction Area, have come from the California Wolf Center, a 50-acre conservation and research facility in Julian.
"We potentially risk that population being exposed to a lot of human caused mortality, including possible hunting, trapping and other mortality causes," said Erin Hunt, CEO of the California Wolf Center.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said the agency hasn't made any decision yet whether it will propose the blanket delisting.
Wolves in the Northern Rockies, where populations are well-established, are already off the Endangered Species List.
Lawmakers say the growing gray wolf population poses a threat to communities and livestock.
Hunt said the small Mexican gray wolf population is not ready to sustain additional pressure, and the move could jeopardize 15 years of their crucial breeding and captivity efforts.
"We have a commitment to those animals to provide for them, shelter them, and to make sure that they have the best possible lives that they can," said Hunt."We will be doing everything we can on our end to make sure this subspecies does not go extinct."
A recent population survey showed an increase from 58 wolves in 2011 to 75 in 2012. Hunt said it's welcome news, but their recovery goal is 100 animals in the wild.
"We need more animals on the ground and we need those animals to be able to exchange genes with other populations of Mexican gray wolves, and we don’t currently have that connectivity," she said.
Mexican gray wolves were on the brink of extinction in the 1970s, with just five remaining in the wild. But the survivors were captured and the species was saved, thanks in part to the California Wolf Center.
Hunt said they're planning to release one or two more wolf packs in Arizona this spring, depending in part if protections continue.
This article appeared online at KPBS on March 28.