August 17, 2009

Mexican wolf “immigration” battle looming

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In a twist on the classic immigration debate, wildlife officials and ranchers are worried about what will happen if Mexican gray wolves reintroduced to the wild in Mexico cross back into the United States and cause problems for ranchers in New Mexico and Arizona.

Mexican gray wolves were killed off in the Southwest in the 1930s, but conservationists now plan to release a pair of captive-bred Mexican wolves in Sonora state this fall, writes Susan Montoya Bryan, who has been tracking the issue for the Associated Press.  The hope is that the pair, along with some yearlings, will breed and repopulate the species’ native countryside. The question is whether those wolves would have the same protections under the federal Endangered Species Act as their American cousins, should they venture back across the border. Currently, they are designated as “experimental” and not protected.

The Mexican grays have been the focus of a long-running standoff between ranchers in the Southwest who say they’ve lost hundreds of cattle to them in the decade since they were reintroduced to Arizona and New Mexico in an effort to save them from extinction.

But conservationists say illegal shootings have stymied their effort to build the population to even 100 wolves. They say there are still only about half that many wolves roaming the 4 million-acre territory.

This week, more than a year after they filed a Freedom of Information request for details about the location of livestock killings, three conservation groups won their battle with the federal government to get that data released, reports Bryan.

The data should help answer questions and guide policies to minimize rancher-wolf conflict in the Southwest.

The Mexican subspecies is part of a larger ongoing debate on wolf protections in the West, as noted in Western Exposure here and  here.

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