The agency also removed two wild-born pups from the same den to meet the state’s permit conditions – resulting in no net increase in the wild wolf population.
It was the first time in two years that Fish and Wildlife has released a wolf into New Mexico with the state’s permission since the state refused to permit wolf releases in 2015.
Last year, the federal agency placed two wolf pups in wild dens in New Mexico, despite the Game and Fish Department denying a permit. Game and Fish sued in federal court and won a temporary injunction on wolf releases in the state.
But this week, after a federal appeals court lifted the injunction in April, Game and Fish issued the federal agency a permit to place two wolf pups in wild dens as long as the agency removed two wild-born pups.
Advocates questioned that condition. But Fish and Wildlife said in a statement Friday that because the wild den already had eight pups – the largest documented litter in the wild, the agency said – it was “standard procedure” to remove two pups.
The effort was “fully aligned” with Fish and Wildlife policies regarding management of the species, the agency said.
Although the “cross-fostering” effort did not increase the wild wolf population, wolf advocates say it is important to place wolves bred in captivity into the wild.
Wildlife managers have bred the wolves to increase genetic diversity as much as possible, and getting those diverse genes into the wild population is key to the Mexican gray wolf’s long-term survival, advocates say.
There were 113 wolves in the wild, according to Fish and Wildlife’s latest census, up from 97 wolves the prior year.