SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A female Mexican gray wolf that was released into the wild earlier this year in hopes that she would become a mate for another lone wolf has been shot by federal wildlife managers, marking the latest blow to the government’s troubled effort to return the endangered wolves to their former range in the Southwest.
The shooting happened late Wednesday on private land near the mountain community of Beaverhead, officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed Thursday. The wolf had been hanging around a ranch at the northeastern edge of the Gila National Forest and was starting to lose her fear of humans.
She had also been socializing with domestic dogs.
Numerous attempts were made to dart the wolf so she could be returned to captivity, but wildlife managers were not able to get close enough, said agency spokesman Tom Buckley. The decision was made to shoot the wolf.
“It’s a very, very unfortunate and very sad circumstance. We’re still trying to wrap our heads around it and what it means to the program,” he told The Associated Press.
There are only about 50 Mexican wolves in the wild in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona. Federal officials had expected to more than double that number, but illegal shootings, courtroom battles, management hurdles and feuding among environmentalists, ranchers and politicians helped stall the program.
In the last five years, federal officials relocated more than a dozen wolves in the recovery area within the two states. However, only one new captive-bred wolf has been released into the wild during that time.
About 300 Mexican wolves are being held at captive-breeding centers around the United States and in Mexico. Only recently did Mexico release its first pack of wolves into the wild.
Officials with the U.S. wolf recovery program had planned to release a pack of wolves this winter, but those plans are on hold indefinitely.
He contends the female wolf wouldn’t have resorted to socializing with dogs had there been more wolves in the wild.
The Arizona Game Commission voted earlier this month to not support any new releases until the federal government revamps its recovery plan for the species. New Mexico also pulled out of the wolf program last summer.
Federal officials have said they would prefer the cooperation of partners in both states to ensure the success of the program.
Some environmentalists blame the lack of releases over the years for the latest wolf death. Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity contended the female wolf — known as F1105 — might not have resorted to domestic dogs if there been other suitable wolf mates for her to choose from.
“This could have been avoided,” Robinson said. “It’s disturbing, and it speaks to the underlying problem of not having a big enough pool of wolves in the wild.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service said the female wolf, which was raised in captivity after being captured in the wild as a pup, had been on the agency’s radar for several months.
She had been implicated in a pair of cattle depredations earlier this year and had a litter of hybrid pups with a domestic dog last spring. The pups had to be captured and euthanized.
The agency said concerns for public safety became an issue after the wolf continued to frequent the ranch near Beaverhead, so the order was given to kill it.
“The (interagency field team) acted properly and professionally throughout this action,” the agency said in a statement. “Their rapid response to this problem helped prevent further concerns about public safety from escalating.”