ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—Future management of the federal government's troubled effort to return Mexican gray wolves to the Southwest was the focus of a packed public hearing Wednesday night.

Hundreds of environmentalists, landowners and others showed up. Supporters rallied before the meeting with a procession as they carried signs in support of releasing more wolves into the wild in Arizona and New Mexico.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began its series of public hearings earlier this week in Denver. Meetings are also planned for Arizona and California.

The agency is seeking comments on a pair of proposals that will determine how it moves forward with the program.

One proposal calls for listing Mexican wolves as an endangered subspecies and delisting gray wolves elsewhere. The other proposal would revise a rule that classifies Mexican wolves as an experimental population.

Wolf supporters say state and federal wildlife managers haven't done enough to help Mexican gray wolves repopulate parts of Arizona and New Mexico.

Ranchers and community leaders in rural areas oppose any plans that would expand the program and the locations where the wolves could be released. They say the program has threatened the livelihoods and safety of residents who live in areas that border the reintroduction zone.

Federal officials began Wednesday's meeting by outlining the history of the Mexican wolf for the crowd.


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A subspecies of the gray wolf, the Mexican wolf was added to the federal endangered species list in 1976. The 15-year effort to reintroduce them in New Mexico and Arizona has stumbled due to legal battles, illegal shootings, politics and other problems.

The last survey, done nearly a year ago, showed there were at least 75 wolves in the wild in the two states. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on the program over the past decade, and officials have acknowledged that growing the population has proven difficult.