Government Revisits Contested Wolf Recovery Plan It has been 10 years since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced the Mexican gray wolf into the mountains of southern Arizona and New Mexico. The agency is re-evaluating the policy, which is under attack from all sides.
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Government Revisits Contested Wolf Recovery Plan

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Government Revisits Contested Wolf Recovery Plan

Government Revisits Contested Wolf Recovery Plan

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I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

The federal government is looking for some new ideas to try to save a species. About a decade ago, wildlife managers reintroduced Mexican gray wolves to the southwest U.S. A similar effort was hugely successful in the Northern Rockies, where more than a thousand wolves now live. But in Arizona and New Mexico, the wolves are running into some old problems.

NPR's Ted Robbins has the story.

TED ROBBINS: If the Mexican gray wolf didn't have enemies, it wouldn't have been exterminated in the southwest a half century ago. Times change, but some opinions don't.

Tom Clumpker(ph) spoke with Albuquerque member station KUNM.

Mr. TOM CLUMPKER (River Outfitter): Our ancestors and the people that settled this area, they worked long and hard to get rid of the wolves for a good reason because they were a dominant predator and were hard on their livestock and wildlife.

ROBBINS: Clumpker is a river outfitter who frequently camps in the Blue Range Mexican Wolf Recovery area.

Mr. CLUNKER: You know that old forlorn howl they've got, it's kind of blood curdling.

(Soundbite of howling)

ROBBINS: That is not a wolf. It's a wolf advocate demonstrating outside a recent meeting in Albuquerque. Hundreds of people showed up at meetings in New Mexico and Arizona. They heard a recorded Fish and Wildlife presentation admitting the current strategy is flawed.

(Soundbite of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service presentation)

Unidentified Man: We need your input in helping us identify all possible alternatives and remedies.

ROBBINS: Over the last decade, more than 80 wolves have been killed by poachers, shot by the government for killing cattle, returned to captivity, or accidentally destroyed by the project's managers.

Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity cites just one example.

Mr. MICHAEL ROBINSON (Conservation Advocate, Center for Biological Diversity): A wolf had left the boundary of the recovery area. It was not bothering any cattle or any other domestic animal. They chased him by helicopter for almost 20 miles until he collapsed.

ROBBINS: The goal was to have at least 100 wild wolves on the ground by now. There are only about 60; that's largely because the Mexican gray wolf is limited to a relatively small reintroduction area in the Blue Range of Arizona and New Mexico. Contrast that to the Rocky Mountain wolf, which was reintroduced into a huge swath of protected public land in the Yellowstone region. The Mexican gray wolf is removed for leaving its area. There's a lot of people at these public meetings on both sides who pointed out, wolves roam. They don't know they aren't supposed to cross an invisible boundary. And while they quickly learn to kill elk or deer, they don't know they aren't supposed to eat cattle.

Eva Sargent is with Defenders of Wildlife.

Ms. EVA SARGENT (Southwest Representative, Defenders of Wildlife): The problem is, in the southwest, there's almost no place that's free of livestock. And - so you're going to have conflicts with wolves and livestock, and that's generally what causes people to not like the wolves.

ROBBINS: At least one rancher has been quoted as saying he baits wolves with beef carcasses so the wolves will be shot or removed. At the meeting, some suggested requiring ranchers to remove dead or dying cattle before wolves can get to them, as ranchers must do in the Northern Rockies. Another suggestion: make the reintroduction areas larger, using biological boundaries instead of political ones.

Given the compromises over the last decade, Eva Sargent says that she's amazed there are any Mexican gray wolves left.

Ms. SARGENT: In a lot of ways, it's a success because there were no Mexican wolves in the wild, so it's an absolute miracle that they're back. And wolves are great, and we can all feel good about that. What we have to worry about is the fact that the program is, at this point, so bungled that it looks like the service is condoning the second extinction of this species.

ROBBINS: The Fish and Wildlife Service insists it will come up with a better management plan for the Mexican gray wolf that will clearly have to include more cooperation from ranchers or better law enforcement against poachers, or maybe it will mean finding other areas where the Mexican wolf can live in peace.

Ted Robbins, NPR News.

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