Twelve years after Mexican gray wolves were reintroduced in Eastern Arizona, their dwindling numbers are putting the population “at risk of failure,” says a recent report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Factors such as the rigid borders of the endangered wolves’ recovery area, removal of wolves to protect livestock, and illegal shooting of wolves are keeping the only wild population of Mexican gray wolves from growing, says the “conservation assessment” released last month.
After 1998, when the first 11 wolves were released in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, their numbers started growing and were expected to reach 100 wolves in 2006. The known population hit a high of 59 in 2006 but then began dropping, falling to 42 last year.
The project has cost taxpayers $20 million or more since 1998. Now officials and others are seeking a way to move the wolf program further from its origin as a way to rescue the subspecies, and instead create a viable wild population.
“It is time to shift the focus of the recovery program from the ‘brink of extinction’ toward pursuit of full recovery,” the report concludes.
Among the initiatives under way is a proposed release of eight captive wolves into the area, which would be the most wolves released since 2003. The regional head of the Fish and Wildlife Service discussed the possible release with the directors of Arizona’s and New Mexico’s game and fish departments Wednesday.
Other efforts to salvage the population are less direct but perhaps as important over the long term:
“¢ Some ranchers are adopting practices to limit contacts between their herds and wolves.
“¢ The service is reconvening a “recovery team” and writing a new plan for the wolves to replace the existing, 1982 plan.
“¢ Mexico, which has no known wild wolves, is planning its first release of wolves, in northeastern Sonora, which could be a key step in creating a healthy subspecies.
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