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Gray wolf breeding pair released in Arizona

Two Mexican gray wolves have been released in southeastern Arizona, but another pair have been removed in New Mexico after roaming too far north, sparking more criticism from environmentalists about the way the wild population is being managed.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed expanding the area where the predators are allowed to roam, but it could be months before a final decision is reached. Until then, the agency is required to capture those wolves found outside the nearly 7,000-square-mile wolf-recovery area, which straddles the Arizona-New Mexico line.

That was the case with a pair that had traveled north to El Malpais National Monument near Grants. They had been in the area since February before wildlife managers darted and captured them last Friday.

This was the farthest north a pair of Mexican gray wolves had been documented, said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“This is excellent habitat. It’s remote country, and filled with deer,” he said. “This would have been an opportunity for the population to expand naturally.”

Ranchers and community leaders in rural areas have opposed any plans that would expand the program and the locations where the wolves could be released. They say the wolves threaten the livelihoods and safety of residents who live in areas that border the reintroduction zone.

The two wolves captured at El Malpais were returned to the agency’s wolf center in New Mexico. They could be released later in the Gila Wilderness.

To bolster wolf numbers, officials on Wednesday released the first of two breeding pairs in Arizona’s Apache National Forest. The pair included a pregnant female and a wild male captured during the annual wolf population survey in January.

Another breeding pair being held at the wolf center in New Mexico will be released next week.

Eva Lee Sargent, director of Defenders of Wildlife’s Southwest Program, said the releases are good news. If the pairs succeed, she said, their offspring will add to the genetic diversity of the struggling population.

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