Saturday, October 09, 2010
Wolf Release in Ariz. Postponed Until 2011
By Rene Romo
Journal Southern Bureau
LAS CRUCES — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will postpone until sometime next year the planned release of a pack of eight Mexican gray wolves in eastern Arizona.
One conservation organization lamented the delay as a setback to increasing the number and genetic diversity of wild-roaming lobos.
Before some of the endangered predators were released in the forests of eastern Arizona in 1998, federal officials expected the wild wolf population to grow to 100 by the end of 2006. But the wolf count at the end of 2009 was 42, down from 52 in 2008, and federal officials have expressed concern that a lack of genetic diversity in the wild wolves might have affected the size of litters.
Terry Johnson, endangered species coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said the primary reason for the delay was the discovery in mid-September of several uncollared, and previously uncounted, wolves in the targeted release area of Engineer Springs.
Releasing captive wolves in territory already inhabited by a wolf pack would likely spell trouble for the new wolves trying to get accustomed to their new surroundings, Johnson said.
"The best news is there appears to be more wolves than we thought on the landscape," Johnson said. He added, "You don't put naive wolves out on the landscape on top of wolves that are already there."
Michael Robinson, a Pinos Altos-based conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, said not releasing a new pack in an area already inhabited by wolves is a valid decision, but he said the release has been delayed for months in the face of concerns raised by ranchers to Arizona officials.
"There are other areas where these wolves could be released, and they are badly needed," Robinson said. He noted that over the last four years federal officials have only released one Mexican wolf into the wild that had not previously been captured and removed.