Once considered as endangered as the species itself, the proposal to restore Mexican gray wolves to the Southwest now appears to be back on track. After the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service released its final environmental analysis on the reintroduction of "el lobo" Dec. 27, biologists moved 10 of 149 captive Mexican wolves to New Mexico. If Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt approves the plan as expected, the wolves and their offspring should be released early this fall.


The federal plan calls for reestablishing a viable wolf population of at least 100 animals in Arizona's Apache National Forest and the adjacent Gila National Forest in New Mexico.


Most environmentalists were pleased. "Despite more than a decade of stalling, the Fish and Wildlife Service has made the right recommendation," said Roger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildife.


Some wolf advocates, however, would like recovery efforts expanded to include portions of the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, plus several sites along the Texas-Mexico border. Others have criticized the wolves' classification as "nonessential experimental," which allows ranchers to shoot wolves caught killing livestock.


To get a copy of the final plan or to comment before Jan. 27, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southwest Regional Office at 505/248-6911. For general information, call the Defenders of Wildlife Southwest Office at 502/578-9334.


*John Rosapepe