Friday, July 21, 2006

New wolf pack at Sevilleta will soon be released

Evelyn Cronce - El Defensor Chieftain Reporter,

A pack of four Mexican gray wolves will be placed in a temporary holding pen, located near Middle Mountain in the Apache National Forest, in preparation for the endangered animals' release in Arizona. Arizona Game and Fish Department officials say the wolves will be moved to the pen site this month in order to meet ongoing wolf reintroduction objectives. The pack is currently at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in northern Socorro County.

The Meridian pack consists of an alpha male and female and two pups. Maggie Dwire, for the New Mexico Wolf Project, said that the male came from a research facility in St. Louis while the female is from a Minneapolis zoo.

Kim King-Wrenn, outdoor recreation planner with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Sevilleta, explained how the two wolves got together. She said that representatives from all of the 40-plus zoos and research centers get together once a year. One person is in charge of the studbook. At that time, the agencies see who has wolves that can be bred as well as who has the facilities and financial resources necessary to establish a pack with pups. The wolf project looks for compatible males and females that are not already genetically represented in the wild population.

King-Wrenn said that this pack is not a replacement for the pack that was recently removed from the recovery area. "The release is part of the ongoing population control," she said. "When there is a sufficiently diverse population in the area, the male pups who come of age and leave their pack, can find a suitable female and begin a new pack without having to stray outside the recovery area."

As is usual procedure, the release will take place quietly, with no fanfare or ceremony to ease the pack's transition into the new environment. The pack will stay in a nylon mesh, low-impact acclimation pen for up to two weeks If the wolves do not release themselves by the end of that period, then wolf project biologists will free them. The pen site in Arizona will have a signed, one-mile public closure surrounding it, ordered by the USDA Forest Service, to protect the wolves from disturbance. The closure will remain in effect while the wolves occupy the area.

"The Meridian pack release is part of an interagency program begun in 1998 to reintroduce Mexican wolves to a portion of their historic habitat in east-central Arizona and southwestern New Mexico," said Shawn Farry, the department's wolf project field team leader, in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release. "With this release, we are attempting to augment the breeding wolf population now in the wild and also to maintain the genetic diversity of the current population. "Existing packs are doing well, with most producing pups this year, and new packs are forming. The Meridian pack will join nine other packs now living in the wild in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in Arizona and New Mexico," he said.

The reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf is a cooperative, multi-agency effort of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, White Mountain Apache Tribe, USDA Forest Service and USDA Wildlife Services.

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