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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M : Return of Gray Wolves to Southwest Slow Going

Animals  (tags: Mexican wolves, endangered, cruelty, animalrights, animaladvocates, death, killing, law, investigation, society, suffering, protection, sadness, rescued, wildlife, wildanimals, extinction, conservation, ethics, environment, slaughter, humans, habitat, anim )

- 1951 days ago -
Mexican gray wolf No. 1105 was shot dead by wildlife managers after having a tryst -- and puppies -- with a common ranch dog. No. 1188, an alpha female, was almost executed, then taken away from her pups and pack, for killing cattle. And wolf No. 1133 was

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Mandy A (86)
Saturday February 16, 2013, 12:15 am

Return of gray wolves to Southwest slow going....

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) Mexican gray wolf No. 1105 was shot dead by wildlife managers after having a tryst and puppies with a common ranch dog. No. 1188, an alpha female, was almost executed, then taken away from her pups and pack, for killing cattle. And wolf No. 1133 was returned to captivity after failing to woo his intended mate.

Fifteen years and more than $25 million after the federal government set about trying to return the endangered species to the American Southwest, the program drastically lags those credited with saving their cousins in the Northern Rockies, bald eagles and even the American crocodile.

The reason, critics say, federal wildlife managers are being too heavy-handed with the wild animals, picking and choosing which wolves get to mate, which get a spot at the front of the line for a chance at freedom and which need to be shot or rounded up and returned to captivity for indulging in cattle easy prey in the rugged mountains of southern New Mexico and Arizona.

"They're going by an old rubric, that there are good wolves and bad wolves," said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups critical of wolf management. "The good wolves are the ones that stay out of trouble so to speak and the bad wolves are the ones that prey on livestock."

Federal wildlife officials defend their handling of the program, saying one of the keys to wolf recovery is finding ways to reduce conflicts with people and livestock. The other is genetics. Without a diverse pool of genes, wolf packs become susceptible to inbreeding and that could lead to smaller litters and more pup deaths.

The goal, federal officials say, is to build a wild population that will one day no longer need human intervention.

Critics say officials haven't done enough to get there. They also contend that many of the decisions made by wolf managers have been shrouded in secrecy. A recent public records request seeking the details behind decisions that led to the capture of wolf No. 1188 netted nearly 700 blacked-out pages.

"The Mexican wolf recovery program has been a complete disaster because politics has trumped biology," said Wendy Keefover, director of WildEarth Guardians' carnivore protection program.

Over the last five years, the federal government and state wildlife agencies in New Mexico and Arizona have spent an average of about $2.5 million a year on the reintroduction program. More is spent by the dozens of zoos and sanctuaries around the U.S. and in Mexico that care for the nearly 260 wolves that are part of the captive population.

The funding goes to everything from the salaries of biologists and veterinarians to meetings, fuel for vehicles, capture operations and root canals and other medical care for the wolves.

The program has been the target of numerous legal challenges, including a flurry of complaints filed in recent months by environmentalists who want to see more wolves released into the wild and more transparency on the part of the federal government.

On the other hand, wolves are still being illegally shot and distain for the animals continues to pulse through rural communities, where ranchers feel their livelihoods are at risk.

In the Southwest, wolves have been confined to an area of public land that's about twice the size of Yellowstone National Park.

It's not necessarily fair to compare the Mexican wolf to its larger cousin. The Southwest much of it stuck in a persistent drought where wildlife is always scrambling doesn't have the same carrying capacity as Yellowstone or the northern states, said Steven Cribb, a California attorney who has studied the Mexican wolf.

The failures of the reintroduction effort don't "arise out of any mistaken policy," he said. "It's the challenge that the situation on the ground has left us with. These wolves, because they have to search so much for sustenance, tend to move more and it's harder to contain them."

This could change, however. Draft documents that call for establishing new rules for wolf management in the Southwest indicate that federal officials are open to the idea of wolves migrating and recolonizing pockets from the Grand Canyon east to Texas' Big Bend National Park.

Counties and tribal governments in Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas have been reviewing the documents, and some have already voiced opposition to the idea of having wolves in their backyard...
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