Monday, June 05, 2006

Critics on both sides say Ariz., N.M. wolf-recovery effort is failing

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

ALBUQUERQUE — A program designed to bring back the wild Mexican gray wolf population to Southern New Mexico and Southeastern Arizona has been shrinking, not growing as planned. In 1996, the Fish and Wildlife Service set population goals for the wolf program — 15 breeding pairs and 83 wolves in the wild by the end of 2005 and 18 breeding pairs and 102 wolves in the wild by the end of this year, the Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday in a copyright story.

Program managers put the count for the end of 2005 at five breeding pairs and 35-49 wolves in the wild. The current count is 31-45 adults plus an unknown number of pups. Wolf recovery program manager John Morgart of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calls the numbers "an absolute minimum count." He and ranchers, who don't want wolves near their cows, say there likely are twice as many wolves on the ground.

But environmentalists say Morgart's numbers fall on the high end and indicate the program is failing. Ranchers and environmentalists agree on one thing: the wolf reintroduction program is not healthy.

Almost an entire wolf pack died in late May and a separate lone wolf was shot by the reintroduction team last week. "At this rate, we could see this wolf population wiped out again in two years," said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity in Pinos Altos. The program calls for permanent removal — dead or alive — of any wolf that has been involved in three depredations within a year.

Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center, said that gives wolves too many opportunities to get in trouble with livestock. Morgart said despite the setbacks, he remains "cautiously optimistic that we're still on the right track and that we're doing OK." Initial reports from the field show that a new wild pack of uncollared wolves has formed and has pups, Morgart said. An adult male and two female yearling wolves will be released this month in the Gila Wilderness, and an adult pair also is set for release this month, he said.

In addition, the captive breeding population is flourishing with more than 300 animals in 47 facilities, he said. "Those things all obviously offset some of the management losses that we've had," he said.

Groups including the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association and the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau want to see changes in the program. They want each incident counted as a strike rather than each killing of an animal. Depredation should include harm to an animal, not just killing it, said Caren Cowan, executive director of the cattle growers association.

  • Arizona Daily Star
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