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Science and Innovations

Scientists Debate Mexican Gray Wolf’s Reintroduction Area

Jim Clark, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Some ecologists and activists argue the endangered Mexican gray wolf should be reintroduced further north in Arizona to increase the population. But a new study coauthored by the Arizona Game and Fish Department says expanding the range would harm recovery efforts. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

The study’s authors say the Mexican wolf’s historic range in the U.S. was limited to the southern corners of Arizona and New Mexico. If the wolf were to be introduced further north, it would likely interbreed with larger Rocky Mountain wolves.

Jim Heffelfinger of the Arizona Game and Fish says that would be "disastrous."

"They would come down and very much take over the Mexican wolf gene pool, and that’s the concern when we’re trying to recover the small lobo of the Southwest," he says.

Heffelfinger says the science is clear Mexican wolves never lived in northern parts of Arizona and New Mexico. But some scientists disagree. Sarah Hendricks of the University of Idaho says genetic data suggest the Mexican wolf naturally interbred with northern wolves in those areas.

In addition, she says, "Contemporary conservation practices really need to move beyond this strict idea of restoring populations within their predicted historical range, and we should focus on habitat that enhances the long term viability of the species."

Reintroduction began in 1998, after the Mexican wolf was nearly eradicated from the U.S. Now more than 100 wild wolves live in the Southwest.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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