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Fish and Wildlife Service reports a record season for wolf foster program

A record number of Mexican gray wolves have been fostered into wild dens. The effort is part of a program to build up the wild population of the endangered species. 

The Fish and Wildlife Service says it fostered 27 wolf pups into wild dens this spring in Arizona and New Mexico. It’s a record year for a program that is almost a decade in the making and aims to improve the genetic diversity of wild Mexican wolves, by introducing newborn pups from captive litters. 

Craig Miller, senior Arizona representative with the advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife, says wild populations of the animal lack the genetic diversity needed to survive. 

"And so to address that, one of the tools is to take genetically-valuable, captive pups and sneak them into wild litters, so they can be raised by wolves with wild experience," he said. 

Miller says this year's 27 foster pups is a promising milestone. 

"One concern though is that the number of pups that are released is deceptive in that it doesn’t directly translate to population health, or genetic health of the population," he said.

He says going forward, it will be important to study the effect these fosters have on the genetic diversity of wild populations in the long-term. He says that and other genetic factors should be key considerations as federal agencies decide whether to keep the wolf on the Endangered Species list. 

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