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Wildlife employee investigated in wolf killing

LAS CRUCES – Federal officials have confirmed that a Wildlife Services employee is the subject of an investigation into the killing of an endangered Mexican gray wolf in January.

Few details about the killing in the southwest corner of the state have been disclosed. Spokesmen for Wildlife Services, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the wolf recovery project, said that the case is under investigation.

However, a brief statement from Wildlife Services indicates the employee asserted the killing was a case of mistaken identity.

The employee, described as a specialist, was investigating a possible wolf depredation of livestock in January when the incident occurred, according to Carol Bannerman, a Maryland-based spokeswoman for Wildlife Services.

“While on-site he lethally removed a canine, which was then identified as possibly a Mexican wolf,” she wrote.

Bannerman wrote that the Wildlife Services employee “immediately reported the take” to the agency’s management and to the recovery project’s Interagency Field Team, a group of federal, state and tribal officials who work collaboratively on the wolf program.

However, the death was not included in monthly reports the Fish and Wildlife Service posts online detailing the status of the reintroduction effort. Such reports typically mention wolf deaths. Spokesmen for the agency have not responded to questions about why the death was not mentioned in the January report, which said: “No wolf mortalities were documented this month.”

The January report notes that Wildlife Services personnel examined the carcasses of two cows on state trust land north of the tiny community of Mangas on Jan. 19, to see if the livestock had been killed by wolves.

The Journal’s inquiry into the killing was initiated by a tip from the Center for Biological Diversity.

“I am once again sad that a Mexican wolf … has needlessly died, and it is infuriating that he or she was killed by a trigger-happy government agent who was supposed to help recover this unique and endangered subspecies of the gray wolf,” said Michael Robinson, the Center’s wolf specialist. “The shooter should be off the job and should be prosecuted.”

Asked specifically about the rumored killing of a wolf by a Wildlife Services employee, Sherry Barrett, the Mexican wolf recovery coordinator for Fish and Wildlife, said she was unable to comment and referred questions to a spokeswoman.

Nick Chavez, special agent in charge of Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement for the region, said that a “canine mortality” was being investigated. “I’m not confirming or denying it,” Chavez said when asked about the killing of a wolf by a Wildlife Services employee. “It’s under investigation.”

There were 75 lobos roaming national and tribal forest lands in a designated recovery zone in southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico at the end of 2012. When wolves were initially released to the wild from a captive breeding program, biologists expected there would be 100 wolves on the ground by the end of 2006.

The illegal poaching of wolves has been the biggest cause of wolf mortality since lobos were released to the wild.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal