Oct. 22–LAS CRUCES — Wolves and cattle ranchers have come head to head again in the Gila and Apache national forests.
Attacks on livestock have prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue orders to remove three Mexican wolves from the New Mexico and Arizona land where the endangered species is being reintroduced, according to internal memorandums.
The service says its goal is to capture the wolves alive and hold them in captivity, likely in one of the service’s 52 breeding facilities in the U.S. and Mexico.
Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate with the Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity, says the removals threaten the wolf population at a sensitive time.
“This is a population that has struggled from the outset, not for biological reasons but for political reasons,” he said.
The latest census, from January, counted 75 wolves roaming the national forests and the Fort Apache Indian reservation, although the service confirmed three wolves have already been removed this year.
Wolves travel in packs, often over long distances in search of food. That pits them against the ranchers that graze cattle on the same lands.
Wolves of the Fox Mountain pack killed two cows and six calves between December 2012 and August, according to the service. The agency’s order for their removal came in August and was extended another 60 days to Oct. 1.
Two wolves belonging to the Paradise pack — a male and female pair that bred pups for three years through 2011 — killed four calves between June and August, according to the service.
Robinson said the female is believed to be still fertile. There are currently three breeding pairs in the Mexican wolf population, he said, down from a high of six pairs in the mid-2000s.
In its orders, the service makes note of everything it did before ordering the wolves’ removal. That includes setting out “diversionary food caches” — a dinner alternative far away from grazing areas — and dispatching range riders to monitor the wolves.
The Fish and Wildlife Service holds between 260 and 300 wolves in breeding captivity.