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Mexican gray wolf pair released in Ariz.

RUIDOSO – Two Mexican gray wolves recently were released into the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in eastern Arizona by staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team conducted a “soft release” of a male and a female, meaning the wolves will be confined in an enclosure until the animals chew through the fencing and self-release. The release is part of a federal wolf reintroduction project in New Mexico and Arizona that many southern New Mexico ranchers oppose.

The female was taken into captivity in January to be paired with a more genetically diverse male. The male was born at the California Wolf Center in 2008 and eventually moved to the Service’s Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility in New Mexico.

The wolf pair were observed breeding and biologists believe the female is pregnant. The pair were released near the Rim Pack’s old territory in Arizona in the Alpine Ranger District.

“The release of this genetically diverse pair of Mexican wolves will help us build on our recent success of reaching a population milestone of more than 100 wolves in the American Southwest,” said Mike Rabe, nongame wildlife branch chief for Arizona Game and Fish Department. “The methods used for their release help ensure that these wolves acclimate and behave as wild wolves.”

The IFT will provide supplemental food while the wolves learn to catch and kill native prey, such as deer and elk, on their own. The supplemental feeding will assist in anchoring the wolves to the area, officials said.

“Improving the genetics of the wild Mexican wolf population continues to be our priority,” said Benjamin Tuggle, Southwestern regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Together, this pair will improve the genetic profile of the current Mexican wolf population, ensuring long-term viability. The female has experience living in the wild, increasing the success rate for the pair’s survival.”

The 2014 Mexican wolf population survey results announced in February showed a minimum of 109 in the wild, up from 83 the previous year.

The Reintroduction Project partners are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service-Wildlife Services, several counties in Arizona and the Eastern Arizona Counties Organization.

The deadline for Arizona and New Mexico livestock producers to submit applications to receive “payments for wolf presence” in 2014 under the Mexican Wolf/Livestock Coexistence Plan is June 1, according to information from the Mexican Wolf/Livestock Coexistence Council.

Applications are available on the Coexistence Council website: http://www.coexistencecouncil.org/.

The Coexistence Plan, announced in March 2014, contains three core strategies: payments for wolf presence, funding for conflict avoidance measures, and funding for depredation compensation. The June 1 application deadline relates specifically to the “payments for wolf presence” portion of the Coexistence Plan.

The intent of the Coexistence Plan is to recognize that real economic consequences occur to livestock producers coexisting with wolves in Arizona and New Mexico.

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