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Updated Nov 28, 2012 - 5:57 pm

Mexican gray wolf program sparks another lawsuit

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is being sued over what environmentalists claim is the agency's failure to implement decade-old recommendations aimed at boosting recovery of the endangered Mexican gray wolf.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed its lawsuit Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

``The only wild Mexican wolf population on Earth is stagnant and losing irreplaceable genetic diversity because the Fish and Wildlife Service is ignoring the pleas of scientists and stalling on vital reforms,'' said Michael Robinson, a wolf specialist with the environmental group.

The Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment on the litigation, saying it hasn't had a chance to review the lawsuit.

The complaint centers on recommendations developed by a panel of scientists that was convened by the agency in 2001 to review the wolf program. The panel came up with more than a dozen recommendations that included releasing more wolves and reducing the number of wolves removed from the wild due to livestock scavenging and other reasons.

The recommendations also called for allowing wolves to live outside the recovery zone that straddles the Arizona-New Mexico border. The scientists had said that limiting the wolves' range wasn't something that had been done with recovery efforts in the Northern Rockies, the Great Lakes or the Southeast and that such a policy would lead to ``serious logistical and credibility problems'' as the population grows.

The scientists also called for the recovery plan that guides wolf management to be revised by June 2002. A decade later, that has yet to be done.

Efforts to return the wolves to the American Southwest have 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.

At last count, there were at least 58 wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico- far below what biologists had initially expected. The next survey will begin in January.

The Center for Biological Diversity first petitioned in 2004 to have the Fish and Wildlife Service implement the recommendations that called for allowing wolves to roam outside the recovery area, releasing wolves directly into the vast Gila National Forest in New Mexico and requiring ranchers to remove livestock carcasses to discourage the predators from developing a taste for cattle.

The agency pledged to consider the recommendations in response to a 2006 lawsuit, so that suit was dropped. However, nothing has been done, Robinson said.

``We're trying to jumpstart this reintroduction program before it's too late,'' he said.

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