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          Front Page




Wolves Missing In Gila Forest

By Rene Romo
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Southern Bureau
    LAS CRUCES— The suspicious disappearance of the three-member Durango wolf pack is the latest blow to the endangered Mexican gray wolf recovery program in southwestern New Mexico.
    The pack, including two adults outfitted with radio collars that continue to transmit even if the wolf is dead, hasn't been detected since early this month.
    "We couldn't find them," said Elizabeth Slown, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Now their fate is considered unknown. ... It's perplexing. You could see one collar malfunctioning, but this would have to be two collars malfunctioning."
    Advocates of the program say it is suspicious for several wolves to suddenly go undetected after weeks of searches.
    The Catron County commission on Nov. 7 warned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that it planned to trap the Durango pack's alpha male, known as AM973, which the county considered a "dangerous wolf" because it had repeatedly gone near a home on the Adobe Ranch in northern Catron County.
    "I would say it (the pack's disappearance) is both worrisome and unusual," said Dave Parsons, a conservation biologist with the Albuquerque-based Rewilding Institute and the former Fish and Wildlife Service coordinator for the program.
    Laura Schneberger, president of the Gila Livestock Growers Association, agreed the disappearance is suspicious but added, "None of us had anything to do with it."
    The association has been critical of the wolf reintroduction because of repeated livestock kills and concerns about human safety.
    "Of course it's suspicious," Schneberger said. "That's what happens when you have a bunch of wolves running around people's houses and camps. They are going to get killed, because people can't put up with them. ... Is anyone surprised that the Durango pack has gone missing after they were allowed to become so habituated?"
    The pack, including an adult male and female and an uncollared pup, was last seen Nov. 1 near the ranch house in the northeast section of the Gila National Forest.
    The recovery program has tried to track the wolves in aerial and ground searches.
    There were 59 wolves at the beginning of the year in the recovery area, which includes national forests in southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico.
    Since the endangered wolves were reintroduced to the recovery area in 1998, 26 have died from poaching, Slown said.
    Slown said it is possible to disable a collar, but, she added: "A person could do that; a bear couldn't."
    The killing of an endangered species is a federal offense.
    While a solitary wolf is more likely to roam long distances, packs tend to remain in established territories, Parsons said, and the Durango pack was known to hang around one ranch. "It would be unusual for them to just go completely out of radar range," Parsons said.
    The Durango pack's alpha female was ordered killed in July for repeated livestock depredations, weeks after she birthed a litter of four pups. Slown said it appeared only one of those pups survived to November.
    Parsons said the loss of the Durango pack's alpha male is "a fairly serious blow" because it possessed the genetic make-up of three remaining Mexican wolf lineages and because, with a new mate, it was set to reproduce again next spring.
    "From a cumulative perspective, that's a lot of growth potential down the drain," Parsons said.