Problems Plague Gray Wolf Reintroduction A program to reintroduce the endangered Mexican gray wolf in the Southwestern United States has run into problems. Bred in captivity, the wolves haven't learned to hunt in the wild, and they're attacking cattle grazing on federal lands.
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Problems Plague Gray Wolf Reintroduction

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Problems Plague Gray Wolf Reintroduction

Problems Plague Gray Wolf Reintroduction

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Eight years ago the Mexican gray wolf was reintroduced to the mountains of Arizona and New Mexico. The species had been near extinction. It had been eliminated from the wild decades earlier because it preyed on livestock. Today, as many as four dozen wolves roam those mountains, but that's only half the number that program managers had hoped for.

NPR's Ted Robbins reports.

TED ROBBINS: You'd expect opponents of the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction to give the program a bad grade. But even its most ardent supports say at best, it deserves a C-. Why? Well let's start with the wolves themselves. Up north in Yellowstone wild wolves were transplanted from Canada. They adapted quickly. In the Southwest, managers release wolves bred in captivity. They have to learn to live in the wild.

SHAWN FARRY: They've been out over two weeks now and haven't really ranged very far. They've been staying for the most part probably within a mile of the release site with little excursions off to maybe two miles, two and a half miles of the release site.

ROBBINS: Shawn Farry is the Mexican wolf reintroduction project field team leader. He's tracking a pair of newly released wolves and their pup. The beeps from a radio collar tell him the wolves are alive. We walk up a slope in the Apache Sitgrave National Forest until we come to a small clearing, the release site.

FARRY: All the food is gone. Exactly who's taking it - we don't know if it's coyotes, turkey vultures or bears.

ROBBINS: The camera shows the wolves eating a couple of elk hindquarters. But this elk was roadkill put here by team members. The wolves have yet to figure out how to kill elk or deer themselves. It's imperative that they do because the only other large prey in these mountains is cattle, cattle owned by folks like retired rancher Dick Hill, who is so hostile to wolves, he would like to see the program end.

DICK HILL: Because it's hurting the country everywhere you look.

ROBBINS: You would like to see them get rid of the wolf again?

HILL: Yeah. What do you think they got rid of them for to start with?

ROBBINS: There's bound to be conflicts between wolves and cattle here because all the reintroduction area is federal grazing land on two national forests and an Indian reservation. Up north, Yellowstone wolves were released into a vast national park.

So wolf opponents in the Southwest have apparently taken matters into their own hands. They've illegally shot and killed 23 Mexican wolves. Only one of those shootings has been successfully prosecuted. Seven wolves have been killed legally by the government. That's because under the strict rules of the program, a wolf that attacks cattle can be put back in captivity or killed. Wildlife biologist Shawn Farry.

FARRY: Within any 365 day period, if a wolf is confirmed to have been involved in three livestock kills, that animal will be permanently removed.

ROBBINS: To help ease the losses, the organization Defenders of Wildlife pays ranchers for a confirmed cattle kill by wolves, Southwest director Craig Miller says more than $50,000 so far.

CRAIG MILLER: As a matter of fact, I just processed about $9,000 in claims today. I'll show you photos from the investigations.

ROBBINS: Miller shows me pictures of cattle carcasses with teeth marks that indicate wolves dragged their prey. Defenders also tries to prevent wolf kill by paying for wranglers to watch cattle more closely.

MILLER: The norm in the Southwest has been essentially drop the animals off in the spring and pick them up in the fall and count those that survive. But when you have wolves and mountain lions and bears, you've got to expect to have some losses.

ROBBINS: Not all wolves kill cattle. There are now seven breeding pairs and a number of second-generation wild born wolves. But everyone agrees that in order to have a self-sustaining population of Mexican wolves, management changes have to be made. The biggest, expanding the reintroduction area. But so far, the agency in charge, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is giving no indication if and when that might happen.

Ted Robbins, NPR News.

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