- Associated Press - Friday, May 13, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Lawyers for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish are seeking to stop federal wildlife managers from releasing more endangered Mexican gray wolves into the wild.

In a court filing Thursday, they asked for a temporary restraining order that would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to get state permission before releasing wildlife - including wolves - in New Mexico.

The move comes after the federal agency released a pair of captive-born pups into a wild wolf den in southwestern New Mexico last month.

The state previously threatened to sue over the federal agency’s insistence that it continue with its wolf recovery program despite opposition over releases in New Mexico and the lack of an updated recovery plan for the predators.

“The USFWS decision to move forward with unpermitted and illegal releases of wildlife into New Mexico demonstrates a disregard for our state’s sovereignty,” Game and Fish Director Alexandra Sandoval said in a statement Friday. “We have a responsibility to uphold the laws of our state and ensure the USFWS complies with applicable state and federal law.”

The state declined a permit request last year by the Fish and Wildlife Service to release wolves, with New Mexico officials raising concerns about the direction of the reintroduction program and the failure of the agency to revamp its decades-old recovery plan.

Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Jeff Humphrey declined Friday to comment on the pending litigation but he said recovery of the Mexican gray wolf is a priority of the agency. The agency has argued repeatedly that it has a responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to help the species.

The wolf recovery program, which spans parts of New Mexico and Arizona, has been hampered over the years by legal battles, politics and other issues. Environmentalists have pushed for the release of more captive wolves into the wild, but ranchers and some local leaders have protested over concerns about livestock losses and public safety.

There are close to 100 wolves in the wild in the two states, according to the most recent survey.

Bryan Bird with Defenders of Wildlife said the Mexican gray wolf is close to extinction and that federal biologists should be allowed to do their job.

The Game and Fish Department met earlier this week with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Justice to discuss resolving the differences. The state said it received notice late Wednesday that its proposals were declined.

Sandoval said New Mexico was forced to take legal action.

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