- Associated Press - Thursday, July 24, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Six Mexican wolves were released Tuesday into the Gila Wilderness as part of its 15-year-effort to reintroduce the endangered predator to the Southwest, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials announced.

According to the agency, the wolves were driven from the wolf sanctuary in Sevilleta to the Gila Cliff Dwellings on Monday night, then packed into the wilderness for release.

The female wolf is one who was recaptured in May after becoming separated from her mate and having six pups with no wildlife experience, officials said.

Two of the pups were put with another pair of wolves that had a smaller litter and more rearing experience. At the sanctuary, the mother and her four remaining pups were reintroduced to a former mate, who officials say adopted the pups as his own.

January numbers show that there were 83 Mexican wolves - 46 in New Mexico and 37 in Arizona - in the wild.

Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said he was happy that wolves were being released into the wild but still had concerns that they were coming from only five breeding pairs.

“There’s a lot of inbreeding going on and we are seeing smaller litters of pups,” he said.

On Thursday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also announced a proposal aimed at the release of captive-bred wolves into new areas of New Mexico and parts of Arizona. The move, which is subject to 60 days of public comment, would expand areas where Mexican wolves can be released and disperse, allowing them to roam from the Mexican border to Interstate 40.

“Over the last 16 years, we have learned much about managing a wild population of Mexican wolves,” Southwest Regional Director Ben Tuggle said. “And it is clear that the current rule does not provide the clarity or the flexibility needed to effectively manage the experimental population in a working landscape.”

Robinson said the center was encouraged that more wolves will be able to roam more widely under the proposals. However, he said the proposed changes also broaden guidelines allowing ranchers to kill Mexican wolves.

“Increasing the authority to kill wolves is disappointing and will further imperil them,” he said.

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