Endangered Wolves

In this Feb. 13, 2019, photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a member of the Mexican gray wolf recovery team carries a wolf captured during an annual census near Alpine, Ariz. The agency announced the results of the survey Monday, April 8, 2019, saying there has been an increase in the population of Mexican gray wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona. (Mark Davis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP)

By SUSAN

MONTOYA BRYAN

Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — More Mexican gray wolves are roaming the American Southwest now than at any time since federal biologists began reintroducing the predators more than two decades ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday.

Agency officials declared progress for the endangered species in New Mexico and Arizona, saying there are at least 131 wolves in the wild in the two states. That represents a 12% jump in the population.

The rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America, Mexican wolves have struggled to gain ground since the first release in 1998 because of poaching, politics, legal challenges and even complications from a lack of genetic diversity.

“The Mexican gray wolf has come back from the brink of extinction thanks to scientific management and the dedicated work of a lot of partners,” said Amy Lueders, head of the agency’s southwest region.

The population increase comes as gray wolves have marked their own turnaround elsewhere, prompting federal officials to reconsider that species’ endangered and protected status. Now more than 6,000 gray wolves live in portions of nine states, including Oregon, where officials on Monday reported a 10% increase in the population there.

Making up only a fraction of the wolves in the U.S., Mexican wolves are in a more precarious position with their limited numbers and the population is still far from where biologists had initially envisioned the species would be by now.

Environmentalists have long called for the release of more captive wolves to boost the population in the Southwest.

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