Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Five Mexican wolves to be released in Gila forest


SANTA FE (AP) - Five endangered Mexican gray wolves will be released in the Gila National Forest over the next few months.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began releasing wolves into the wild on the Arizona-New Mexico border in 1998 to re-establish the species in part of its historic range.

A male and a pregnant female are to be turned loose on the eastern side of the Blue Range Recovery Area in late April, just prior to the female giving birth. Program officials said that would increase the likelihood that the pair will remain in the area.

The site was chosen because the owners of the closest private land and the grazing permit-holder said the release was acceptable. The area also is a considerable distance from the San Carlos Reservation. The wolves were removed from the reservation last year over boundary issues.

Two females and one male will be released in June in one of four approved sites in the Gila Wilderness. The exact site will be determined after other wolf packs in the area have established dens, so the distance between the existing packs and the new wolves can be maximized.

The female wolves were captured in the Gila National Forest in 2005 as pups when their pack was removed from the area because of livestock killings. The male was captured outside its boundary in 2005.

The reintroduction program allows Mexican gray wolves to be released in New Mexico only if they previously were released in Arizona and have experience in the wild.

"We are aware of the need for caution in releasing wolves that have been captured elsewhere," said wolf biologist Saleen Richter. "It is important that we work to release wolves that will adapt to their new surroundings without conflict."

As of the end of 2005, there were an estimated 35 to 49 wolves in Arizona and New Mexico.

Wolves outside New Mexico's Gila National Forest and Arizona's Apache National Forest can be removed at the request of landowners. Fish and Wildlife officials say that has resulted in a number of previously captured wolves that can be moved to the Gila Wilderness and surrounding areas.

A five-year review of the reintroduction program recommended expanding the range in which the animals are allowed. The program is awaiting a response from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Ranchers have objected to wolf reintroduction, contending the animals threaten their livestock and that expanding the program could jeopardize more ranchers as well as population centers. A year ago, two New Mexico groups lost a federal lawsuit aimed at ending the program.

Environmental organizations have argued that wolf reintroduction is hampered by people more than biological concerns and that ranchers who oppose the program never will be satisfied.

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