Wolves penned for release into wild in next couple of weeks
Wire Service, Associated Press April 05, 2002
ALBUQUERQUE (AP) – Two pairs of endangered Mexican gray wolves were placed
in holding pens Thursday on the Gila Wilderness as a preamble to their
eventual release into the wild. Ranchers, including one not far from the
release site, accepted the news philosophically but said they remain
opposed to it. The wolves were placed in the pens despite a 30,000-acre
wildfire 10 miles north of the nearest release area.
The female in each pair is pregnant, expected to give birth in just over
two weeks, and the four are expected to stay in their nylon mesh pens for
no more than two weeks, said Elizabeth Slown of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
If the wolves don’t break out of their pens on their own by the end of two
weeks, they will be set free, Slown said.
Erik Ness, spokesman for the state Farm and Livestock Bureau, said the
program is cruel to wolves, which have been raised in captivity, dependent
on man for survival, only to be sent into a hostile environment.
“If you treated your dog that way, you’d get arrested,” he said. “I’ve
heard ranchers express sympathy for these wolves.”
Ness said ranchers are surprised that the Bush administration permits the
program to continue, and ranching groups expect to discuss seeking an end
to the program.
“Our board of directors and others are going to regroup and look at this
and say, ‘Enough is enough,”‘ Ness said.
Michael Robinson, a spokesman for the Southwest Center for Biological
Diversity in Pinos Altos, near the Gila National Forest, said Friday that
the wolves “have made excellent adaptations to life in the wild, but we
are concerned that the livestock industry continues to try to sabotage the
“We are very hopeful for these wolves’ success in their new life in the
wild,” Robinson said.
The four wolves were brought in by pack mule Thursday from a ranch near
the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, Slown said.
The staging pens, about five miles apart, are one-third of an acre or
smaller. They are on either side of the west fork of the Gila River.
The release pen nearest the wildfire is in the Lilley Park area. The other
pen is five miles south in the McKenna Park area. Both are in the
558,065-acre Gila Wilderness.
The Mexican gray wolf once roamed the U.S. Southwest and into Mexico but
was hunted to the brink of extinction by the 1950s.
In 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced 11 wolves in
eastern Arizona. Over the years, 65 have been released but many were
recaptured and others died in the wild.
The agency estimated at the end of February that about 25 wolves remained
in the wild.
Ness said: “Bottom line, the Gila Forest is not what it was 20 years ago.
There are homes, schools, businesses. It’s an inevitable conflict,” he
said. “I don’t see any benefit to it.”