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Stop killing wild wolves, activists ask

By Mitch Tobin ARIZONA DAILY STAR

Following the federal government's intentional shooting of a Mexican gray wolf last month, activists want a change in management strategy and no more killing of the endangered creatures.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, 24 environmental, animal rights, religious and community groups fault the government for not following the advice of an independent panel of scientists.

The scientists' 86-page report, released in June 2001, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should let wolves who aren't causing problems establish territories outside the recovery area in the pine-covered Blue Range, 150 miles northeast of Tucson.

The study also said ranchers should do more to dispose of carcasses to prevent wolves from getting a taste for cows.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service has not implemented those recommendations and instead has inaugurated killing wolves by shooting an animal, wolf No. 592, whose life and death illustrates the danger to wolves of both establishing a territory outside the recovery and of scavenging on livestock carcasses," the letter said.

Wolf 592, an adult female that was shot to death May 27 in New Mexico's Gila National Forest, was released into Arizona's Apache National Forest in February 2000.

She and her mate soon moved west to the San Carlos Indian Reservation and were recaptured in July 2000 at the request of the tribe. While in captivity, wolf 592 broke her leg while trying to scale a fence, according to a public records review conducted by the groups.

Wolf 592 and her mate were then re-released into the Gila National Forest in December 2000. Twice the pair was found scavenging on carcasses of livestock they did not kill, and they then began killing cattle on their own. They were recaptured in June 2001 and re-released this April while wolf 592 was pregnant.

Federal officials said they were forced to shoot wolf 592 because she had killed four and injured five head of cattle since 2001. Although her mate was successfully captured, wolf 592 remained elusive.

"This wolf demonstrated that she was prone to killing livestock, and that is unacceptable behavior," said H. Dale Hall, Southwest regional director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. "The service made a commitment to the livestock industry that we would remove wolves with a history of depredations."

Fish and Wildlife is tracking 21 wolves with radio collars and believes there are at least 15 others without collars in the wild.

The reintroduction of captive-bred Mexican wolves has majority support of residents in Arizona and New Mexico, according to recent telephone surveys. But the program has been opposed by many ranchers and residents in the recovery area who see it as a heavy-handed federal initiative that puts their lives and livelihoods at risk.

Eleven wolves have been found shot to death since 1998, with the federal government and environmental groups offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the shooters.

* Contact reporter Mitch Tobin at 573-4185 or mtobin@azstarnet.com.