The Mexican Wolf Recovery Area
by Mark MacAllister
: Historic Range and Today's Recovery Area
Mexican wolves once ranged through central and southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, west Texas, and as far south as Mexico City. The current Mexican wolf recovery area, though, occupies a much smaller expanse of land in the southwestern United States. Of particular importance is the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (WRA), which stretches across east-central Arizona and west-central New Mexico. This area includes the Apache National Forest and the Gila National Forest, and accounts for more than 6800 square miles of territory. Much of the WRA includes the alpine habitat favored by Mexican wolves—the highest point of the Blue Range is 11,000 feet. Water is abundant in the recovery area, and Mexican wolf prey (elk, deer, some small mammals) is plentiful as well.
The White Sands Range is a second wolf recovery area. This region is located in New Mexico, and is made up of the White Sands National Monument, the San Andres National Wildlife Refuge, two military facilities, and strips of federal- and state-owned lands. Though the area encompasses some 4000 square miles, its lower altitude, relatively dry conditions, and lack of large prey—mule deer are the primary prey species here—make it less attractive for Mexican wolves. In short, the White Sands probably will support a maximum of thirty wolves. Its distance from the Blue Range also makes it less than desirable, as wolves migrating between the two are endangered by vehicles and other hazards.
Complicating recovery efforts on both of the ranges are significant human impacts on the land and on the various wild species it supports. About 66% of the Blue Range area, including much of the Gila Wilderness, is open to cattle grazing; as well, mining, forestry and outdoor recreation are evident. Heavy cattle grazing also occurs on the White Sands.
Some 2400 square miles of lands managed by the White Mountain Apache Tribes are also open to Mexican wolves. Two releases have occurred in this area: the Hon-Dah Pack on June 23, 2003, and F613 on January 22, 2005. Tribe members in the San Carlos Apache area, on the other hand, are opposed to wolf recovery; no releases have been attempted in that area, and in fact wolf migration through the area is not permitted.
Overall, the Mexican wolf experimental population boundary includes a wide belt crossing the middle of New Mexico and Arizona, bounded on the west by the California state line and on the east by the Texas state line (though a small portion of Texas is included within the recovery experimental zone).
Who Can Go Where?
Though there are many thousands of square miles of land apparently available for Mexican wolf recovery, there are also significant restrictions on where and how those animals can be released to the wild. For example, formerly captive wolves that are being released to the wild for the first time must be released on the southern portion of the Arizona side of the recovery area, in what is known as the “primary recovery zone.” This land is located in the Apache National Forest, and accounts for about 25% of the entire recovery project area. Recovery zone lands in New Mexico—known as the “secondary zone” and accounting for the remaining 75% of the recovery area—can be used only for the re-release of wolves that have been recaptured while in the wild, such as those with depredation tendencies or other problems in adjusting to life in the wild.
Most importantly, though, is the requirement that Mexican wolves cannot establish territories outside the BRWRA. Wolves that disperse outside the recovery zone will be recaptured and either relocated to the right place or returned to captivity.
: "Halfway Houses"
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