The Biden administration is moving to allow more wolves to roam the wilds of the Southwest.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed removing a population cap and restricting the killing of the endangered Mexican gray wolf, which currently resides in parts of Arizona and New Mexico, and across the border in Sonora, Mexico.
The agency says there were at least 186 wild Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico at the end of 2020, the result of a binational recovery plan enacted in the early 1980s, when the species had already been extirpated in the U.S. It's a subspecies of the gray wolf, which numbers more than 3,000 in the Northern Rockies.
The proposal would lift the current population limit of 325 across what's known as the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area. The agency also seeks to improve the population's gene flow, and temporarily ban state officials from killing the wolves under the rationale of protecting big game like elk or deer.
The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, whose litigation prompted the FWS proposal, applauded the move – but wants the agency to go further.
“What we need is a halt to the Fish and Wildlife Services’ shooting and trapping program on Mexican wolves,” said Michael Robinson, the organization's senior conservation advocate.
Currently, the agency will kill or trap wolves if they attack livestock or wander outside the boundaries of the 98.5 million-acre Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area. Earlier this year, wildlife officials captured and relocated a Mexican gray wolf who was found near Flagstaff, Ariz.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is taking public comment on the proposal through January 22.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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