Officials plan to release five wolves in the Sierra San Luis range, which extends from about 85 miles south of the Arizona/Mexico border to within 25 miles of the border. Wolves are known to travel as much as 80 miles a week, and could eventually connect with wolves at the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in northeastern Arizona and northwestern new Mexico.
Mexican officials and conservationists have long planned to reintroduce Mexican gray wolves to their original range. The last known wild wolves were trapped in the 1970s as part of an effort to save the subspecies of gray wolves. A captive breeding program was established, and now more than 300 wolves live in 40 U.S. and Mexican facilities.
The United States released 11 animals from the endangered gray wolf subspecies into the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in 1998. The goal was that natural reproduction and reintroduction would bring the population to 100 in a few years.
The first wild pups were born in 2002, but continuing difficulties have meant that the wolves have struggled to maintain their population. On Friday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that its annual wolf census found 42 animals on the ground at the end of 2009, compared to 52 at the end of 2008. It was the lowest number in seven years.
They're largely prohibited from leaving the confines of the Blue Range area. If seen outside the range, and between an area bordered by Interstate 40 to the north and Interstate 10 to the south, they are to be returned to the Blue Range.
Perhaps just as worrisome for the wolf project, at least two of eight wolves whose carcasses were found last year had been shot, meaning apparent poaching of the wolves, a problem Federal officials are investigating.