Lincoln County officials proposed a change in regulations to make it easier for residents to deal with "problem wolves" as the population of the endangered Mexican wolf rises throughout the state.
Increased wolf numbers through species recovery efforts left many New Mexico ranchers concerned they could threaten livestock.
The Lincoln County Board of County Commissioners discussed during a recent meeting ordinance 2014-02 which outlines how the Sheriff's Office can investigate and handle "wolf-human conflict," that may lead to health and safety issues.
County officials requested to consider removing the benchmark for the number of released wolves that survive to breeding age before they can be relocated once the population rises to more than 320. The benchmark is currently nine wolves in 2022 but is expected to grow to 22 by 2030, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
In 2020 there were a minimum of 186 Mexican wolves across the southwest, 114 of which are in New Mexico, according to the FWS. That population is expected to grow to more than 320 by 2023.
"We are going to have a greater number of livestock predation and I think we are going to see more conflict with humans," said Chair of the county's Land and Natural Resources Advisory Committee Robert Barber.
According to the FWS a single Mexican wolf kills roughly 1.7 cattle a year. It was estimated that they can kill up to 544 cattle a year once populations rise over 320, costing ranchers $595,500 in losses.
County officials said FWS can always replace wolves taken legally or illegally by releasing captive populations and animals from Mexico, which may help support genetic diversity.
The Mexican wolf population dwindled down to near extinction before the FWS began conservation efforts in 1977. By 1998 the FWS released Mexican wolves from captivity for the first time in the Mexican World Experimental Population Area which spreads from Arizona to New Mexico.
In October the FWS put out a request for public comment for proposed changes to management regulations of the Mexican wolf.
Under current regulations, the wolf population can reach a maximum of 300-325 individuals. According to the FWS removing this limit would allow the agency to meet its recovery goals for the Mexican Wolf.
Claudia Silva is a reporter from the UNM Local Reporting Fellowship. She can be reached at email@example.com, by phone at 575-628-5506 or on Twitter @thewatchpup.
This article originally appeared on Ruidoso News: County considers ordinance to address growing Mexican wolf population