ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - More than two dozen conservation groups asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday to suspend a policy that they say is undermining the endangered Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program in New Mexico and Arizona.
The policy in question sets guidelines for dealing with wolves that prey on livestock. After three confirmed depredations, officials with the reintroduction program can permanently remove a wolf from the wild, either by capturing it or using lethal means.
"This wolf-destroying policy is a pox on the lobo," said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. "But unlike parvovirus or distemper, (the policy) is a bureaucratic affliction."
A message seeking comment was left Wednesday at the Fish and Wildlife Service office in Albuquerque.
Federal biologists began releasing wolves on the Arizona-New Mexico border in 1998 to re-establish the species in part of its historic range after it had been hunted to the brink of extinction in the early 1900s.
Robinson said the federal government supports the reintroduction program on one hand but on the other is "killing wolves just for being wolves" to appease livestock owners.
The conservation groups say the wolf control policy - known as SOP 13 - doesn't take into account the wolf's genetic value, its social relationship with other pack members, its reproductive status or other factors.
In a letter sent Wednesday to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the groups argue that enforcement of the policy threatens to eliminate at least two wolf packs currently in the wild.
The letter asks that the policy be temporarily suspended until the agency has more than 100 wolves, including 18 breeding pairs, in the wild.
"Although this goal was projected to be reached by the end of 2006, it seems increasingly unlikely to ever be achieved under current management," the letter reads.
At the end of 2006, there were 59 wolves throughout the reintroduction area in New Mexico and Arizona. Of those, 46 were born in the wild.