[Source: Associated Press] -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to change some of the rules for a program that began putting Mexican gray wolves back into the wild in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona nearly 10 years ago. Federal biologists began releasing wolves 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. Ranchers have consistently complained about wolves killing their livestock, while conservationists have criticized the program's management _ specifically a policy that requires wolves to be removed if they're linked to three livestock killings. The federal agency has begun taking comments in a series of public meetings in New Mexico and Arizona about potential changes to the program.
The wolf reintroduction program originally predicted that by now, there would be a viable, self-sustaining population of 100 wolves and 18 breeding pairs in the wild. Instead, the service counted 59 wolves and six breeding pairs last winter during its official, once-a-year count. Since the first releases, the agency has removed 65 wolves permanently _ either by capturing them for permanent captivity or by killing them, said Dave Parsons, who oversaw the wolf recovery program from 1990 to 1999. He is now is carnivore conservation biologist for The Rewinding Institute. The wild population has been "propped up by continued releases far beyond what we thought would be necessary,'' he said.
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