The Mexican gray wolf is in need of more room to roam.


Mar 11, 2001
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Scientists recommend more room for wolves
By Lowry McAllen, Tribune reporter.

    The Mexican gray wolf is in need of more room to roam.
    That's one of the preliminary findings by a trio of scientists outside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who have prepared a draft document recommending how to change the wolf reintroduction program for the better -- and avoid the risk of failure.
    The study looks at the first three years of the wolf recovery plan in New Mexico and Arizona and offers a warning to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
    "Several factors currently work against successful recovery," a draft of the study states.
    And this warning is one the current manager of the wolf program is taking in stride as feedback useful to managing his program.
    "This yellow light is not surprising," said Brian Kelly, the Fish and Wildlife Service director of the endangered Mexican wolf program.
    He said changes are natural to a program that's taking scientific research and applying it to real-life situations in the field.
    The biologists who have been called on to look at the wolf program are Paul C. Paquet of the University of Calgary in Canada, John A. Vucetich of Michigan Technological University and Mike Phillips of the Turner Endangered Species Fund.
    Among the changes they recommend:

Expanding the wolf reintroduction area.
Recapturing fewer of the recently released wolves from the wild.
Cutting down on the number of human-wolf encounters, some of which end in the death of a wolf.
    Those meetings between man and beast are prime causes for concern by the researchers, and with good reason.
    Since 1998, when the first wolves were released into the wild, six animals have been shot to death by people and three have been hit by cars. Those human-caused deaths account for more wolf losses than disease or other natural events.
    "The rate of human-caused mortality must be reduced," the three researchers found. They suggested using shock collars and bean-bag shot on wolves to train them to be fearful of humans.
    The group also suggested looking into how law enforcement could be more effectively involved.
    The researchers said it may be necessary to start taking wolves to areas outside the current recovery area, which is in southwest New Mexico and southeast Arizona, mostly in the Gila and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.
    "Wolves should not be released from sites that are in the territories and home ranges of other wolf packs," they wrote. About 25 wolves are roaming the wild now.
    The idea of changing where wolves are released gets at the core of the reintroduction program as it now stands. The plan only authorized releasing wolves in the designated national forests.
    Another central change the scientists recommend is revising the rules for recapturing wolves. Currently, the Fish and Wildlife Service must recapture a wolf if it wanders onto private land and the owner complains.
    But that interrupts the healthy life of those animals.
    "Frequent recapture probably disrupts social relationships," the scientists found. "Disrupted social relationships in wolves are a potentially serious threat to recovery."
    The group suggested wolves only be recaptured if they are directly threatening a human life.
    A policy change like that could anger local ranchers, which is also a point those same researchers looked at.
    They recommended routinely including ranchers in making decisions for the program.
    That's one point where Kelly and others in the agency plan to work at getting more input.
    They intend to hold 10 open houses in the two states soon after the final version of their study is released to get community feedback. That study, which was contracted by the Fish and Wildlife Service, could be released in early June.

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