FWS prepares for new wolf releases in AZ & NM

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Wolf releases set in Arizona, New Mexico

By Tom Jackson King, Eastern Arizona Courier Managing Editor

3/14/02

New releases of Mexican gray wolves have been set for national forest areas of Arizona and New Mexico and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is hopeful the four pairs of mated wolves will raise plenty of healthy pups.

Brian Kelly, Mexican wolf recovery coordinator for USFWS, said the Interagency Management Advisory Group met Feb. 27 in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, and decided to release two wolf pairs with pups in Apache National Forest and two pairs in the Gila Wilderness area of Gila National Forest.

"We're looking at the 10th of June to have wolves in pens in Arizona. We want to time it as closely to elk calving as possible," he said.

"We want them to learn to kill wild prey. At that time, the pups with these pairs will have been weaned and be six to 10 weeks old. We've had good success with packs released with pups of that age."

Kelly said one pair of alpha male and alpha female wolves, plus any pups born to them, will be released at Bear Mountain, while another pack consisting of an alpha pair, up to five yearlings and any pups born this spring will be released at Fish Bench.

He agreed the Arizona release sites are new release locations not previously used for the release of the six packs of wolves that roam Arizona and New Mexico. He said the agency chose those sites based on sound wildlife biology.

"They were selected based on the criteria we have always used, such as availability of prey, no current packs roaming in the area and not being near livestock," he said.

Kelly acknowledged the Arizona Game and Fish Commission last year asked his agency to not release wolves at new release sites, but he said biological reasons outweighed the AGF's request.

"It is ill-advised to limit releases to established sites because most are now occupied by existing packs. We have consulted with AGF as we've looked at sites," he said.

The New Mexico wolf releases include the release of two pairs of alpha wolves, with each female being pregnant with pups. The release areas will be two of four locations previously identified: Lille Park, White Creek, Miller Springs and McKenna Park, all in Gila Wilderness. Final selection of the release sites is still in progress.

The New Mexico releases will happen in late March or early April, rather than in June like the Arizona releases. Kelly said he would prefer to release the New Mexico wolves later but the management plan doesn't allow that.

"I have no choice. We can only translocate previously released wolves to New Mexico," he said.

In short, only Mexican gray wolves that were previously released in an Arizona locality, then were recaptured, are candidates for release in New Mexico. Wolf pups born in New Mexico to captured Arizona wolves can't be released in New Mexico.

"We can't allow them to give birth in New Mexico. It's bad for the wolf program because they will have less probability of success. They (the pups) will be born near cattle calving time rather than elk calving time," he said.

"It's bad for the people in New Mexico for this early release. We will propose a rule change to make it less of an impact on folks in both states," Kelly said.

The total number of radio-collared wolves in two states are 17, which belong to six packs, he said. Five of the six packs are home-based in Arizona, although members of packs frequently roam across both states.

The Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program is an effort of USFWS, AGF and New Mexico Department of Fish and Game to reintroduce up to 100 endangered Mexican gray wolves into their former range in the U.S. Southwest. While the release sites are all located on U.S. Forest Service federal land, wolves naturally roam widely and released wolves have been observed as far afield as Flagstaff in the northwest down to near the Mexican border in southwestern New Mexico.

The five-year program, which expects to spend at least $9 million of mostly federal money on the reintroduction effort, is highly controversial in both states because ranchers and rural residents say the wolves are either a danger to humans or are ill-adapted to life in the wild because most have been captive-raised at half-way houses such as Ted Turner's Ladder Ranch or the Sevilleta Wildlife Refuge, both in New Mexico. Environmental groups argue it is essential to restore "keystone predators" such as wolves to the forests in order to enrich the existing ecology of these natural areas.

More information on the program can be found on the Internet at mexicanwolf.fws.gov or by calling 520-367-4281.
 

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