Endangered Mexican gray wolf returned to the wild after straying from recovery area

The Arizona Republic (Original) Posted June 14, 2023 by Jake Frederico

A Mexican gray wolf that was captured after straying out of its designated recovery area earlier this year has been returned to the wilds of Arizona.

Asha, a 2-year-old female wolf, was successfully released on June 7. She was captured in northern New Mexico in January and temporarily held at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sevilleta Mexican Wolf Management Facility outside Socorro, New Mexico.

The female wolf was born in the Rocky Prairie pack in Arizona in 2021. She was captured and fitted with a radio collar in the fall of 2022. Later that year, she dispersed from her natal pack and, in January, crossed out of the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area, north of Interstate 40.

The wolf had wandered nearly 500 miles, heading north into the southern Rocky Mountains. It was the first time since the reintroduction program was established that an endangered Mexican gray wolf trekked into that area.

Officials from Fish and Wildlife said the decision to move the wolf back to the experimental population area was consistent with policies outlined in the service's recovery permit. The lack of other wolves in the area meant she had no chance to breed and contribute to recovery efforts.

But conservation groups are challenging this boundary set by Fish and Wildlife and say that the arbitrary line is unfair and ignores the natural behavior of the wolves.

“Asha is a courageous young wolf, and we’re thrilled she’s once again free to continue living her life on her own terms,” said Cyndi Tuell, Arizona and New Mexico director of Western Watersheds Project. “It’s scientifically indefensible and inherently unfair that wolves need to stay south of Interstate 40. Wolves like Asha have shown, time and time again, that this purely political boundary is ecologically irrelevant.”

Under the current Mexican gray wolf reintroduction rule, Mexican wolves are confined to the areas of Arizona and New Mexico south of I-40. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations provide for the removal of any Mexican wolf found beyond this boundary.

Some scientists have said that habitats in and around Grand Canyon National Park and in the southern Rocky Mountains are key places for new populations of Mexican wolves to establish themselves and ensure a robust population. Conservation organizations are currently in court challenging the boundary.

The release comes days after a federal hearing on the potential rewrite of the Mexican gray wolf recovery plan, which could have an impact on the wolf’s ability to roam northward.

“The agencies responsible for Mexican wolf management need to acknowledge that dispersing long distances is an inherent natural behavior for many wolves and needs to be incorporated into their recovery and not denied for these endangered wide-ranging mammals,” said Emily Renn, executive director of the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project.

The Mexican gray wolf is the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America and was federally listed as endangered in 1976. The Mexican gray wolf recovery team was formed three years later by the Fish and Wildlife Service, which developed a recovery plan for the species that called for reestablishment of at least 100 wolves in their historic range through a captive breeding program.

This year marked the 25th anniversary of reintroducing wolves into the wild, with populations surpassing 200 for the first time. A minimum of 59 packs were documented at the end of 2022, with 40 of those packs counted in New Mexico and 19 in Arizona.

Once Asha was moved to the Sevilleta facility in January, she was paired with a male in the hopes she would breed and produce pups this past spring. Her new mate was selected based on potential genetic contribution to the wild populations.

The federal agency had initially planned to release the pair and their pups into the wild population in Mexico in support of recovery efforts for the southernmost wild Mexican wolf population. Officials from Fish and Wildlife said this would help bolster genetic diversity in the U.S. population of the species.

But breeding efforts were unsuccessful, and the service made the decision to move Asha alone into the wild in Arizona.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department, in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, released Asha, known officially as female wolf 2754, into the Apache National Forest in eastern Arizona. She will continue to be monitored via radio collar.

Jake Frederico covers environmental issues for The Arizona Republic and azcentral. Send tips or questions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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