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Cross-fostering focus of 2018 wolf release plan

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public comment on its 2018 Mexican wolf release and translocation plan.

Two captive-bred Mexican gray wolf pups have been placed in this den in the Gila National Forest under an agreement between the New Mexico Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (SOURCE: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The plan proposes the cross-fostering of up to 12 pups into as many as six wild wolf packs throughout the wolf’s experimental range in New Mexico and Arizona.

Cross-fostering involves placing pups born in captivity into dens to be raised by wild wolves.

The plan also provides for the translocation of wolves who stray outside the experimental range or which may be at risk of mating with closely-related wolves in the area.

“The ultimate success of an initial release, translocation, or cross-foster occurs when those animals survive and produce pups in the wild,” the plan reads.

No initial releases, where an adult with no prior experience in the wild is released, are proposed for 2018.

During a conference call on the newly finalized recovery plan for the subspecies last week, FWS Mexican wolf recovery coordinator Sherry Barrett said they are hopeful that cross-fostering, a relatively new method for Mexican wolf recovery, will be identified as a successful technique once more data is collected.

Of the eight pups cross-fostered since 2014, at least four survived until the end of the year they were placed in dens, according to the release plan, and some have since bred and had pups of their own.

“Collectively, these results are encouraging and suggest that the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program should continue to utilize cross-fostering as a strategy to increase genetic diversity of the wild wolf population,” the plan reads.

It’s not known exactly where the pups will be placed, but seven New Mexico packs are being considered along with five in Arizona.

The plan also provides for the capture of a female in Arizona who is at risk of breeding with a full sibling.

After her capture, she will be artificially inseminated or bred with a captive male, then released back to the pack.

Genetic diversity remains a key concern in the wolf’s recovery as the current population is descended from the same seven animals.

The Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team has released 108 captive-raised wolves into the wild and translocated 121 wolves since 1998.

Public comments will be accepted through Dec. 26.