By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press
Thursday, January 3, 2013ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Fewer Mexican gray wolves were found dead in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona this past year, and federal officials say efforts aimed at reducing conflicts with livestock seem to be helping.Officials confirmed that three of the four wolves found dead in 2012 were illegally shot.
In the most recent case, the carcass of a female member of Arizona's Hawks Nest pack was found in December. The cause of death is under investigation.
Eight wolves were found dead in 2011. Three were shot, two were hit by vehicles, and three died of natural causes.
"It's always encouraging when we have a decrease in the mortalities," said Sherry Barrett, coordinator of the wolf recovery program.
Barrett said the wolf program has been working with landowners and hunting groups in New Mexico and Arizona as it tries to educate people about the predators. The program also uses a special interdiction fund to reimburse ranchers for livestock lost to the wolves.
For the 2012 fiscal year, the fund was used to make 19 payments totaling more than $27,500. The environmental group Defenders of Wildlife spent about $68,000 on similar efforts aimed at reducing livestock conflicts.
Returning the wolves to the wild has been hampered by everything from politics to illegal killings. Disputes over management of the program have also spurred numerous legal actions by environmentalists who have been pushing for more wolves in the wild and ranchers who are concerned about their livelihoods and safety in rural communities.
There were at least 58 wolves in the wild at the beginning of 2012. This year's annual survey will begin in two weeks.
Beyond those wolves that were killed last year, environmentalists were concerned about those that have failed to show up on the radar. Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity counted at least three radio-collared wolves that had not been accounted for during 2012's weekly telemetry flights.