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Mexican grey wolf population has dwindled drastically across the border, environmentalists say

In a letter sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a group of conservationists say the effort to build up the population of Mexican gray wolves south of the border isn’t going well.

Mexican gray wolves are endangered here in the U.S., but the small wolf species’ range once spread into central Mexico and as far north as Colorado. But the population has been in decline for years. 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been heading off an effort to increase  populations  in central Arizona and New Mexico. And also track wolves in Mexico.

Brady McGee is the agency's Mexican wolf recovery coordinator. He says the agency's recovery plan includes having at least 320 wolves in the U.S. and at least 200 in Mexico. But the effort is lagging in Mexico.

"I think the numbers are probably less than 15 wolves in the wild with zero functioning radio callers," he said. 

McGee says intentional poisonings and shootings have degraded the wolf population in Mexico, and the agency doesn't have the authority to mandate regulations in another country. He says Fish and Wildlife Service was tracking some Mexico-based wolves with radio collars, but the batteries in the devices have since died.

Conservationists from the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups cited the dwindling number in their letter and said it couldn't be relied upon to help build up U.S. populations. 

They say the agency should open new habitats in the Grand Canyon region and the southern Rockies instead.

A spokesperson with U.S. Fish and Wildlife declined to comment on the letter, but said the agency is in the process of producing a five-year evaluation of the Mexican wolf recovery plan and will assess populations on both sides of the border as part of that effort.

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.