Mexican gray wolf ‘Asha’ roams to northern New Mexico

Mexican gray wolf ‘Asha’ roams to northern New Mexico

Asha is two years old and is not where she's supposed to be right now – at least according to federal and state wildlife officials.

*Correction: A previous version of this story stated the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service considers Asha to be a threat. A spokesperson confirmed they do NOT consider her to be a threat.* 

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If one thing is clear about Asha, the Mexican gray wolf – she enjoys northern New Mexico.

“Wolves are going to run where they want to go, and she showed everybody that where she wants to go is northern New Mexico,” said Greta Anderson, deputy director of Western Watersheds Project.

On Thursday, the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish reported Asha was located outside of the Mexican Wolf Experiment Population Zone – which covers all of southern New Mexico. It was the second time in a year Asha was documented leaving the recovery zone, heading into northern New Mexico.

Game & Fish officials say radio data shows Asha crossed the zone’s northern border (which follows I-40) late last week and roamed north towards the Jemez Mountains. The most recent location data shows she was somewhere west of Jemez Springs.

“Wild animals are just going to seek out the places that they think are best for them, and so as wildlife advocates, we think that they should be allowed to do that,” Anderson said.

Asha was first documented leaving the recovery zone in late 2022. Officials say she traveled more than 500 miles before she was eventually captured by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in January. She was housed at a Mexican wolf management facility near Soccoro before she was eventually released in eastern Arizona back in June.

Anderson and many other wildlife advocates are pushing federal and state wildlife officials to leave Asha alone.

“The dispersing wolves are actually some of the most important wolves in a wolf population, because they’re going out to kind of mix it up,” said Anderson, who stressed the importance of expanding the Mexican gray wolves’ genetic diversity. “We’ve been saying you need additional subpopulations to sort of have resiliency and real recovery in the Grand Canyon eco-region, in the southern Rockies. Asha is showing us that the habitat is perfectly suitable.”

A U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service spokesperson says they do not consider Asha – or any other Mexican Gray Wolves- a threat to human health and safety. They revealed the service has no current plans to recapture her.

Radio data shows the vast majority of collared Mexican gray wolves still live within the recovery zone with a major concentration in the Gila National Forest. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has captured and relocated only a handful of Mexican gray wolves that venture outside the zone – which spans 98.5 million acres across southern New Mexico and Arizona.

The most recent wolf captures all involved animals that traveled north of the I-40 border. Anderson believes it’s time to abolish those boundaries.

“We think that the plan to keep wolves south of I-40 is fundamentally wrong. It’s not scientific, it’s wholly political, and it really jeopardizes the future recovery of wolves,” she said.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials have previously said the I-40 border lines up with the Mexican gray wolf’s historical range. Officials have also said there is a high likelihood of a negative interaction with domestic dogs during breeding season since there are no other known wolves in northern New Mexico.

Anderson says she is more concerned about hunters potentially misidentifying Asha as a coyote and killing her – which would be a federal crime. Fish & Wildlife officials say it’s important to remember Mexican gray wolves outside of the recovery zone are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

“Mexican wolves that move outside the MWEPA, including north of I-40, are listed and protected as federally endangered under the Endangered Species Act. A wolf cannot be killed, hazed or harassed north of I-40 without violating the ESA, unless the wolf actively poses a threat to human safety,” said Aislinn Maestas, a spokesperson with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. “We are working with our partners to ensure a safe outcome for [Asha] female wolf 2754.”

Anyone caught killing a Mexican Gray Wolf outside the recovery zone could face serious fines or even jail time.