The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has offered a $37,000 reward for information about the “suspicious” death of yet another Mexican gray wolf, this one near Eagar.

Wildlife officials recovered the body of a wolf on Feb. 19 along Saffel Canyon Road (RTE 76) just south of Eagar. The USFWS is seeking information on a vehicle that was stopped or driving slowly near Saffel Canyon Trailhead on the evening of Feb. 18.

If you have information call 844-FWS-TIPS (397-8477) or email fws_tips@fws.gov.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to the protection and sustainability of the Mexican wolf,” said Phillip Land, special agent in charge of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, Southwestern United States. “With the assistance of our partners and the public, we will find the person responsible for the death of this endangered animal.”

A variety of private and government groups have put up the reward, including $10,000 from the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The federal laws protecting endangered species include criminal penalties of up to $50,000 and a year in jail or civil penalties of up to $25,000.

Some 170 reintroduced endangered Mexican gray wolves now live in Arizona and New Mexico. Intentional, illegal killing has remained a persistent problem for the expensive, decades-long reintroduction effort. Last, year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offered a $37,000 reward for information about the suspicious deaths of two Mexican gray wolves near Pinetop, killed off Porter Mountain Road in the Apache-Sitgreaves Forest. No one has been arrested in connection with that incident.

Cattle ranchers in the region maintain that despite federal payments for cattle killed by the wolves, the continued growth of wolf populations in the region endangers their grazing operations. The wolves kill perhaps 100 cattle annually, say ranchers.

The federal government also kills wolves who have preyed on or harassed cattle. In 2020 federal hunters killed four wolves in the area, which included killing a three-legged wolf in the Saffel pack. The wolf lost its leg after getting caught in a leg-hold trap — which may have prompted him to start preying on cattle as the only game it could catch. A federal sniper killed the crippled, radio-collared wolf from a helicopter.

In another recent, notorious case, a New Mexico rancher apparently used a shovel to beat a Mexican gray wolf to death after the wolf was caught in a leghold trap. He was fined $2,300 and now faces possible revocation of his 50,000-acre federal grazing permit.

The most recent federal population survey documented a 14% increase in the number of wolves in the wild last year, despite a relatively high mortality rate — with most of the documented deaths linked to human causes.

Federal officials said they would track down the people responsible for the latest illegal wolf-killing.

“Each endangered wolf deserves a chance to survive in the wild,” said Amy Lueders, regional director for the USFWS in Albuquerque, N.M. “Our law enforcement officers are actively working with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to conduct a comprehensive investigation into this suspicious death. These investigations are extensive, and wolf poachers have faced, and will continue to face serious criminal consequences.”

“We at the Forest Service on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest are grateful to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in support of their active investigation,” said Anthony Madrid, forest supervisor. “We greatly understand the importance and connection our communities and so many people have with these magnificent animals and are encouraged by the work that our partners are doing. We strongly encourage members of our community to work with us and contact the proper authorities if they have any information,” added Madrid.

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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