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NM: Wolf Population Grows in N.M., Arizona

By Associated Press

The number of endangered Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and Arizona continues to rise. State and federal biologists found at least 58 wolves in their latest count, up from 50 the previous year and 42 in 2009.

Arizona State University biology professor Philip Hedrick calls the increase good news, but says the best news is that the number of breeding pairs has risen from two to six.

“If you think about it, that’s only 12 animals that are contributing to the next generation for this year, so that’s not a huge number – even though it’s a lot better than just two, last year.”

The total wolf count needs to be much larger in order to produce a long-term stable and sustainable population – perhaps four times as many wolves, Hedrick explains. That increase would not sit well with ranchers in western New Mexico and eastern Arizona, who have long complained that the wolves kill cattle and sheep.

Kim McCreery is a staff scientist for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. She says a few pairs of breeding wolves are not enough for genetic diversity, which means reduced litter size and an increase in pup mortality. McCreery adds that what is needed for a healthier population is more wolves on the ground. She suspects that politics may be getting in the way.

“We need a rule change. We need U.S. Fish and Wildlife to change a rule saying that captive-bred wolves can only be released in the primary recovery zone, which is in Arizona.”

While seeking changes in regulations that limit wolf releases in New Mexico, McCreery says scientists are conducting an experimental program: training wolves to reject the taste of livestock.

“The wolves have been conditioned to not want to eat something because they associate it with a chemical that doesn’t taste good to them, that kind of makes them feel, for a while, not very good.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has worked with ranchers to keep the wolves away from livestock, noting that only one problem wolf has had to be permanently removed in the past five years.

The Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program began in 1998, with a goal of 100 wolves by 2006.