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Feds to kill endangered wolf in New Mexico

Mexican gray wolves are struggling in the Southwest. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Conservation activists say shooting is unnecessary; push for better livestock protection and management

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Bowing to local political pressure, federal biologists say they will shoot an endangered Arizona wolf that has been killing livestock — despite the fact that its pack is surviving mainly on elk, and that ranchers have been fully reimbursed for their losses.

Wolf conservation advocates said the kill order is a throwback to Bush-era wildlife policies that don’t make sense as endangered Mexican gray wolves struggle to hold their own in the Southwest.

“Rare losses of livestock, whose owners are indemnified, should not be used as an excuse to resume a de facto war against the beautiful, intelligent, social and very imperiled Mexican wolf.” said wolf advocate Michael Robinson, of the Center for Biological Diversity.

The seven-member  Fox Mountain pack has preyed on four head of cattle during the past several months. The owners of the cattle will be fully reimbursed, but the wolf family will lose its matriarch, according to a kill-order issued last week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to its sister agency, U.S.D.A. Wildlife Services.

Last year, only 58 Mexican wolves and six breeding pairs survived in New Mexico and Arizona, their only home in the wild in the U.S.

”Instead of killing this successful wolf mother, more should be done by affected ranchers to protect their livestock,” Robinson said. “Resources should be used to immediately hire a range-rider, rather than spend a greater amount of taxpayer money to shoot a radio-collared wolf in front of her pups.”

The last wolf shot in response to livestock depredations was the alpha female of the Durango Pack, killed on the Gila National Forest in New Mexico in June 2007. Her mate and pup disappeared thereafter and are presumed dead. Then-governor Bill Richardson withdrew the state’s assent to killing her and other wolves, but his message was delivered too late to save her.

After a decades-long wolf extermination program in the United States and Mexico carried out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 led to the rescue and captive breeding of the last five Mexican wolves in the wild in Mexico.

Some of their great-grandpups were reintroduced in 1998, but the shooting of 12 wolves by the government, accidental killing of 18 more in the course of capture, and long-term incarceration of 32 other once-wild wolves has led to the population languishing and left it at risk of blinking out, according to conservation activists.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains that the recovery program is on track, citing recent reproduction by wolves in the wild. But officials with the agency acknowledge that there is a great deal of local resistance to recovery efforts.

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