The government of Mexico plans to release five endangered Mexican gray wolves this month in northeastern Sonora, the Arizona Game and Fish Department announced.
If released in the same mountain range that Mexican officials have pointed to before, the wolves would be easily within a wolf's walking distance of Arizona.
In 2010, Mexican officials said they planned to release wolves in the Sierra San Luis, a mountain range that runs from the Chihuahua-Sonora-New Mexico border southeast to a point about 80 miles south of Douglas. The Mexican government did not go forward with a release last year.
Mexican officials reached Tuesday would not confirm the plan, but a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed they too understand Mexico is poised to release the wolves.
Any wolves that cross the border into the United States would be considered fully protected endangered species, said Fish and Wildlife spokesman Tom Buckley. That means nobody may interfere with the wolves unless they are directly threatening people.
All five wolves will wear tracking collars when released, Arizona Game and Fish said, citing an informal report on the project. The Mexican government plans to tell the Fish and Wildlife Service if the tracking data shows that a wolf has crossed the border, Buckley said.
The release could bring new Mexican gray wolves into contact with the wolves that are being managed in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico, something that environmentalists are hoping for.
"It's good news," said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. "It's hard to envision the Mexican wolf recovering without a population in Mexico. The heart of their range is the Sierra Madre."
Robinson hopes the two populations eventually intermingle, introducing much needed genetic diversity into the population of about 50 wolves in Arizona and New Mexico.
Wolves were originally introduced into the Blue Range in 1998, but the population has failed to meet the original goals of the project, as wolves have been removed by officials, died naturally or been killed. If wolves leave the Apache-Sitgreaves or Gila national forests, they are captured and returned to the area.
Rancher Laura Schneberger, president of the Gila Livestock Growers Association in New Mexico, said the wolves in Mexico threaten the livelihood of American ranchers. That's because, if wolves cross the border into the U.S., the wolves can't be controlled even if they kill cattle.
Anyway, she suspects the wolves won't last long in Mexico.
"I know a bunch of the people who live down there. They won't put up with it," Schneberger said.
Contact reporter Tim Steller at 520-807-8427 or firstname.lastname@example.org