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Updated Feb 7, 2012 - 6:01 pm

Environmentalists sue over trapping in New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Environmentalists filed a lawsuit Tuesday against wildlife managers over their decision last summer to lift a trapping ban in southwestern New Mexico where the federal government is reintroducing Mexican gray wolves.

WildEarth Guardians contends the New Mexico Game and Fish Department and the state Game Commission are violating the federal Endangered Species Act by allowing trapping. The group is concerned trapping could compromise the wolf population that spans New Mexico and Arizona.

``You can't set a trap in the range of a Mexican wolf. Under the Endangered Species Act, it's clear you can't harm, harass or trap a listed species,'' said Wendy Keefover, the group's carnivore protection program director.

The group is seeking a court order that would require Game and Fish Director Jim Lane and Commission Chairman Jim McClintic to exercise due care to avoid killing any Mexican wolves before authorizing trapping within the reintroduction area.

Dan Williams, an agency spokesman, said the lawsuit has yet to be reviewed.

The commission's vote to lift the ban last summer was based partly on a federal study that found trapping accounted for only a fraction of documented wolf injuries and deaths in the reintroduction area.

The researchers found that trapping- both by wildlife managers and others- accounted for less than 4 percent of wolf fatalities in the past 13 years.

WildEarth Guardians' lawsuit pointed to 14 individual wolves that were captured in foothold traps between March 2002 and February 2009. Seven of those wolves were injured, including two that required leg amputations, and two wolves died.

Keefover said even a handful of trapping incidents involving wolves could affect the small population.

Most of the trapping incidents were in New Mexico. In Arizona, foothold traps on public lands are prohibited.

A recent survey done by the reintroduction team shows there are at least 58 wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. That's eight more than last year, but federal officials had hoped to have more than 100 wolves in the wild by 2006.

A subspecies of the gray wolf, Mexican wolves were added to the federal endangered species list in 1976 after they were all but wiped out due to hunting and government-sponsored extermination campaigns.

The federal government started its reintroduction effort along the New Mexico-Arizona border in 1998 with the release of 11 wolves. The program has been hampered by everything from illegal killings to legal wrangling.

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Follow Susan Montoya Bryan on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/susanmbryanNM

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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