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Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Fed Sharpshooter Kills Wolf in Arizona

By Tania Soussan
Journal Staff Writer
    An endangered Mexican gray wolf was killed by a federal sharpshooter Sunday for preying on cattle on the San Carlos Apache reservation in Arizona.
    It is the second time federal agents have killed a wolf since the reintroduction program for the endangered species began in 1998. A female wolf was shot dead last May after she killed five calves and attacked a sixth on a ranch in southwestern New Mexico.
    Meanwhile, program workers are preparing to trap a pack of wolves because they have established a territory in the Cibola National Forest in New Mexico outside of their designated range.
    The 6-year-old Saddle Pack male killed Sunday had eluded capture for about four months, becoming so savvy that he dug up traps without getting caught.
    But on Sunday, the wolf known as M574 was tracked down on the reservation and killed with a single gunshot, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Elizabeth Slown.
    "Lethal take is not our first choice for removing wolves," said Dale Hall, southwest region director of the service. "The loss of any individual animal that could contribute to the recovery of a threatened species can not be taken lightly."
    The service blames the wolf for five livestock depredations since March when he and his mate killed cattle on the tribal land.
    The female was quickly trapped and returned to captivity at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, where she gave birth to five pups and now is paired with a surrogate father.
    "We don't know what's going to happen to them," Slown said. "They're doing quite well, and it's nice that he has five progeny."
    Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity decried the killing as an example of mismanagement that he says characterizes the wolf reintroduction program.
    "This population ... can't survive government hunters tracking them via telemetry from ground and air, and doubling the mortality the population already suffers from poaching," he said.
    Robinson added that M574 was genetically valuable as the only wolf in the wild descended from a particular one of the few original breeding wolves.
    The reintroduced wolves are designated "experimental" and "nonessential." That means they do not have full Endangered Species Act protection, and the Fish and Wildlife Service has more flexibility managing them.
    The service has promised to remove wolves that repeatedly kill livestock.
    "We must keep that promise," Hall said. "Otherwise we jeopardize the program."
    The reintroduction program team now plans to shift part of its focus to trapping a pair of wolves and their young pup in the San Mateo Mountains of New Mexico.
    The program rules require wolves that establish a territory outside the boundaries to be removed.
    Robinson said that rule must be changed and criticized the plan to remove the three wolves.
    "This risks destroying the Cibola National Forest pack," he said. "Currently, this pup is learning the skills of survival from its two wild-born parents. It's not a good time to traumatize this family."
    The trapping will be tricky because only the male is collared. If he is caught first, he'll have to be let go because the only way to track the pack is by his radio collar, Slown said.
    Once caught, their fate is uncertain.
    "They'll bring them in and assess them and see if they're candidates for translocation or release in New Mexico," Slown said.
    There are an estimated 50 to 55 Mexican wolves in the wild and another 260 or so in captivity in the United States and Mexico.