Mexican Wolf Reintroduction and Recovery Program

Reintroduction Objectives: (as quoted from the 1982 Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan)

1. Establish a captive population of 240 animals with at least 17 breeding pairs.
2. Reestablish a wild population of at least 100 animals within the wolf’s historic range.

Reintroduction Area

Two wolf reintroduction areas have been identified within the subspecies' historic range. The Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area includes the Apache and Gila National Forests in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico [(7,000 mi2); (18,200 km2)], and also the White Mountain Apache Tribe lands on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation [( 2,500mi2) (6,475km2)]. The White Sands Wolf Recovery Area includes the White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico and designated lands (mostly Bureau of Lands and Mines) to the west [(4,000 mi2); (10,400 km2)

The Reintroduction Plan - Soft Release

The Mexican gray wolf Recovery Plan is built upon the lessons learned from previous predator reintroduction programs such as the red wolf in North Carolina and Tennessee and the gray wolf in the Northern Rocky Mountains. The plan is to release about 15 pairs or family groups over a period of five years into the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. The USFWS predicts that it will take approximately 9 years to establish a self-sustaining population of 100 wolves through release of captive animals and natural reproduction in the wild. Initially, biologists used a "soft release" approach, which entails holding the wolves in acclimation pens for up to several months before the release. Wolves released into the primary recovery zone in Arizona will be allowed to disperse into the secondary recovery zone in New Mexico.

The Nonessential Experimental Population Rule

The USFWS and cooperating agencies use a flexible "adaptive management" approach based on careful monitoring and research to evaluate and make decisions about recovery actions. The reintroduction plan allows for wolves to be removed or relocated when conflicts occur with livestock or humans. Selective removal of individuals or packs that habitually prey on livestock increases the potential for wolf recovery to succeed because it encourages a wolf population that focuses on native prey and builds a tolerance for coexistence among livestock producers.  Reintroduced Mexican gray wolves are designated as nonessential experimental population under the Endangered Species Act, which allows for greater management flexibility than would be possible if wolves were classified as fully endangered. The rule delineates the population boundary, provides guidance for wildlife managers on capturing, monitoring, and translocating wolves, and defines the circumstances in which a citizen can legally harass or kill a wolf.

Criteria for Selecting Release Candidates

Personnel working with Mexican gray wolves must not attempt to modify the animals’ behavior. As it is difficult to identify which wolves will ultimately be selected for release, avoidance of socialization or familiarization of the wolves with humans is fundamental. Remote feeding is preferred for release candidates and should be employed whenever possible. Feed, give access to the food, and then leave the area. Wolves that are potential candidates for release to the wild are evaluated based on a number of behavioral and physiological criteria including genetic makeup, age, reproductive performance, proven parental skills and appropriate social behavior, and aversion to humans. For current information on field activities, visit

Additional information is available through the Arizona Game & Fish Department’s Mexican gray wolf website and their regular email newsletter.