When the decision was made to restore Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest, the top choice was the land now known as the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, one of the wildest landscapes in the Lower 48. It is remote, has a full complement of natural prey species, and is situated far from heavily populated areas. It is ideal habitat where, under the right management, Mexican gray wolves will thrive.
The Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, which has since been expanded, was originally the Gila National Forest in New Mexico and the Apache National Forest in Arizona and part of New Mexico—comprising 4.4 million acres (twice the size of Yellowstone National Park), which support an extraordinary array of wildlife and vegetation types. The current Recovery Area spans 98.5 million acres, that includes 20.5 million acres of habitat.
Habitats range from low-elevation Chihuahuan Desert to evergreen forests and mountains above 10,000 feet. In between are rolling grasslands speckled with junipers, stately ponderosa pine forests and thousand-plus-foot canyons. At the bottoms of those canyons, in the places where cattle are fenced out, streams and rivers flow—nurturing tangles of water-loving willows, cottonwoods, box elders, alders, walnuts and sycamores, trees whose leaves turn yellow in the fall before dropping off and regrow bright green again in the spring. Over twenty species of deciduous trees—more than anywhere else in the West—grow here.
Wildlife is equally diverse. The recovery area is home to an array of rare and imperiled animals found in few other places—including Gila hotsprings snails, Chiricahua leopard frogs, Mexican spotted owls and even, if recurring reports turn out to be true, jaguars. The prey base for the Mexican wolf includes elk, mule and white-tailed deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, javelina and beaver.
The region includes the world’s first wilderness area, which in 1924 was protected from motorized access at the urging of pioneering ecologist Aldo Leopold. But six years later, after wolves were largely exterminated, in order to allow hunter access to the burgeoning deer herds, the Forest Service bladed a four-wheel-drive road through the wilderness, thus dividing it into the Gila and Aldo Leopold wilderness areas. Still, over two million acres of the recovery area remain roadless.