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Editorial: Saving Female Wolf Not End of the Story

Which is worse? The death penalty or life in prison?

For a wild animal, either is pretty grim when you’re used to running free with the pack. Trouble is, when wild predators bump up against humans, the wild animals usually get the short end of the stick.

Taking an endangered Mexican gray wolf out of the wild by killing it isn’t a decision the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes lightly — or often. Killing over cattle depredation was last done in 2007.

It looked like 2012 was going to be a repeat. After the service on Wednesday issued a lethal removal order for wolf F11-88 over depredations by the Fox Mountain pack, the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center stepped up and said it could take the female.

Fish and Wildlife quickly rescinded its kill order. Agents are now in the field looking for F11-88 to take her to her new home in Arizona. Her weaned pups will remain in the wild.

The Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Program, which has brought the Mexican gray wolf back from the brink of extinction, has been on a very slow path to re-establishing the species in the desert Southwest. The reintroduction plan was put in place in 1982, captive breeding in the early ‘90s and releases into the wild in 1998. Starting with five wolves from Mexico, as of January the program had at least 58 wolves in the wild and about 300 in captive breeding programs.

Cattle killing by wolves in New Mexico statistically is low — 2.4 percent of all the cattle lost to predators in 2010 — but if it’s your calf or heifer, it’s a substantial loss, although there is compensation for wolf kills.

The federal government spent about $1.8 million in 2011 on the wolf program. As the program continues to struggle, questions have been raised about its viability. In 2011, the state of New Mexico pulled out, leaving the state of Arizona and the White Mountain Apaches still working with the federal government on the program. Many New Mexicans love their lobos— 69 percent either strongly supported or somewhat supported the program in a 2008 Research & Polling survey.

This wolf-human standoff has ended — for now — but the future of the lobo and this government program remain uncertain.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.