Updated 09:25 AM EDT, Sat, Oct 21, 2017
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Mexican Gray Wolves struggling to make a comeback in US Southwest

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The Mexican Gray Wolf is the most endangered wolf in the world. At one time it ranged from northern Mexico through the US States of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Today there are believed to be less than 400 left, mostly housed in protective facilities.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) began a recovery program for wolves in 1977 after the species was declared an endangered species the year before. As for the Mexican wolf in particular, the USFWS is struggling to reach a goal of 100 animals living in the wild over a range of 5,000 square kilometers.

As of 2012, there are only an estimated 75 animals living in the wild, with 37 in Arizona and 38 in New Mexico.

While the numbers of individual animals have slowly increased, so has the resistance to their protected status and projected range in recent years. A plan to reintroduce the Mexican Wolf to Big Bend National Park in Texas was abandoned after it was rejected by the state in 1998. New provisions being examined are also meeting resistance.

Currently the area for wolf recovery spans Arizone, New Mexico and a small part of Texas. Releases only take place in a very restricted area in Arizona. (Image: USFWS)

Recently the USFWS proposed changes that would introduce the Mexican Gray Wolf as an endangered species individually, but would delist wolves overall. The proposal also calls for a significant increase in land designated as habitat for the Mexican wolf. However, the process has been extended and public comments will be heard on the matter through December 2013.

"As a result of delays caused by the lapse in federal appropriations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has rescheduled dates for the remainder of a series of public hearings on two proposed rules-one to list the Mexican wolf as an endangered subspecies and delist the gray wolf elsewhere, and the other to revise the Nonessential Experimental Population of the Mexican Wolf," the USFWS said on its Web site. "Comment period deadlines also are extended until Dec. 17, 2013 to allow these hearings to take place within the public comment periods on the proposed rules.

"The hearings will take place on November 19 in Denver, Colorado, November 20 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and November 22, in Sacramento, California. There will also be a public information meeting and hearing in Pinetop, Arizona on December 3. Each hearing will include a short informational presentation."

Changes in the legal status of the Mexican wolf would allow for endangered protection to apply to any wolf, regardless of where it was encountered, but stipulates that the USFWS would be obligated to capture and relocate any wolf found outside its designated range. However, proposed changes would allow for wolves to naturally migrate outside a restrictive area in the Blue Ridge Wolf Recovery Area (BRWRA) and into the much-broader Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area (MWEPA).

A Mexican wolf is released into the wild by the USFWS in January 2011. (Photo: USFWS)

While removing a small part of the MWEPA that extends into Texas, the USFWS is proposing to expand the area of the MWEPA to the border with Mexico across both New Mexico and Arizona. Additionally, the agency plans to do away with a very restrictive release area (currently contained within Arizona) and begin primary releases throughout the BRWRA.

This move has caused concern among residents in the affected area who do not look forward to an increase in potential human-wolf encounters.

"The proposed revision to the Nonessential Experimental Population of the Mexican Wolf will be not supported by Cibola County Commission," read an Oct. 23 resolution adopted unanimously by the governing commission in Cibola County, New Mexico, which lies adjacent to the areas currently used for release.

There is still fear of the wolf in some of the human population in the Southwest. In reserve, New Mexico, children actually wait for their school buses inside mesh cages designed to keep them safe from the dangers of a wolf attack.

"They're designed so children can step up in them and sit down and wait for the bus," said Catron County Sheriff Shawn Menges in an interview with FoxNews.com. "What happens out here in these rural areas is that most of the time, the parents are going to sit and wait with the children in their vehicle, but that's not always true."

But the wolves themselves may not be responsible for all of the resentment coming to light over the issue.

"The whole debate over the wolf is part of other battles over the Endangered Species Act and failed government programs," said David Spady, in a recent LA Times interview. Spady produced an anti-wolf documentary entitled "Wolves in Government Clothing."

"The wolf is symbolic of a larger fact: The federal government is running roughshod over private property rights. We at the local level believe that we understand the needs of our place, rather than somebody in Washington, D.C."

Read the USFWS proposal in its entirety here.

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