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Feds propose wolf releases in southwestern New Mexico

The Associated Press
February 17, 2017 01:51 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Federal officials want to release two packs of Mexican gray wolves in wilderness areas near the Arizona-New Mexico border this year in an effort to bolster a struggling population threatened by inbreeding.

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It will ultimately be up to New Mexico and a federal court whether that happens, since the state and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are locked in a legal battle over the endangered predator.

New Mexico contends there's no way to determine whether the proposed releases would conflict with the state's own wildlife management because federal officials have yet to develop a comprehensive recovery plan for the wolves.

Such a plan is due later this year.

Federal officials say the releases are an important tool for avoiding a genetic bottleneck since most of the wolves in the wild are related.

There are now more Mexican gray wolves roaming the American Southwest than at any time since the federal government began trying to reintroduce the predators nearly two decades ago.

The annual survey released Friday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows at least 113 wolves are spread between southwestern New Mexico and southeast Arizona. This is an improvement over the 97 wolves that were documented the previous year.

Federal officials say the numbers are encouraging but that more work needs to be done to ensure the population grows by about 10 percent each year.

The survey showed 50 wild-born pups survived in 2016 compared to half that the previous year.

In all, officials reported a total of 21 packs with at least 50 wolves in New Mexico and 63 wolves in Arizona.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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The Associated Press

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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