*Note: There is an update to this story at: https://www.krqe.com/news/environment/mexican-wolf-asha-captured-in-new-mexico/
SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – A Mexican gray wolf, named Asha, has wandered from Arizona into Northern New Mexico. And advocates are asking the federal government to let her keep going.
At issue is the current boundary of the Mexican Wolf Experimental Project Area (MWEPA), the area where federal reintroduction and monitoring projects for Mexican wolves is concentrated. The northernmost boundary of that area is Interstate 40. But Asha is currently just east of Taos, far above that boundary.
Aislinn Maestas, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service public affairs specialist, told KRQE News 13 that the agency is currently working with partners to decide whether or not to relocate the wolf back into the boundaries of the MWEPA. A key reason why they might bring the wolf back to the MWEPA is to help it find a mate, Maestas says.
“The main reason [for potentially relocating the wolf] is that a Mexican Wolf that far north is not able to contribute to recovery of the species. There are no known Mexican Wolves that far north, and so she’s completely alone up there,” Maestas says.
“We’re entering breeding season for Mexican Wolves,” Maestas adds. “And we want her to find the mate, we want her to mate and contribute to recovery [of the species], have puppies. And so, the main reason that we would go get her would be to bring her back so that she can find a mate and fulfill that that role and that need that she has as a Mexican wolf.”
But some advocates don’t think government officials should bring the wolf back to the MWEPA. In a letter to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they ask that the wolf be allowed to keep roaming.
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Map of the MWEPA. From U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
“We want Mexican gray wolves to be free to roam and not be confined by politically motivated boundaries like Interstate 40,” Greta Anderson, the deputy director of Western Watersheds Project, said in a press release. “The wildlife management agencies must allow wolves like Asha to move into the habitats of their choosing and to not waste precious funding forcing wolves back into the inadequate recovery area.”
KRQE News 13 spoke with Anderson about a key issue for the wolf: finding a mate. “I think if that’s what she wants, and she’s not finding it, she’ll go back to where the other wolves are,” Anderson says. “And we should let her sort of make that decision.”
Somewhat paradoxically, outside of the MWEPA, the wolf has more legal protections than inside the boundary. “North of I-40 in New Mexico, the wolf is a fully endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, which means that no one is allowed to harass, harm, or take that wolf without the penalty of fines or prosecution,” Maestas explains. “South of I-40, within the non-essential experimental population area, there is greater flexibility for harassment hazing, and take through management.” For example, within the MWEPA, ranchers are allowed to haze the wolves to keep them away from cattle.
Both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and advocates do agree on one thing: It’s important for people to be aware that there is a wolf around northern New Mexico.
“We want people to be aware that she is up there,” Maestas says. “People are not used to having wolves in that area,” which increases the chance that someone will mistakenly harm the wolf.
“Right now, we don’t consider her a threat in any way to human safety,” Maestas says. “But it’s just good for people to know she’s there.” Maestas also says that relatively soon, they’ll have a decision on whether or not the Fish and Wildlife Service or partners will relocate Asha.
Anderson, from the Western Watersheds Project, says Asha shouldn’t be forced back. “We want to see wolves recovered on the landscape. We want to see them using the habitat that’s available to them.” The fact that Asha has made it to northern New Mexico might be a sign that the MWEPA needs to be expanded, Anderson adds.