Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press
In this Dec. 7, 2011, file photo, a female Mexican gray wolf looks to avoid being captured for its annual vaccinations and medical checkup at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in central NM.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Federal officials will allow Mexican gray wolves to roam a greatly expanded area in the Southwest.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the first major changes Monday to a reintroduction program that began in 1998.

The wolves currently roam about 7 million acres of federal, tribal and private land in far eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. Up to 325 of the wolves eventually will be allowed to disperse south of Interstate 40 to the U.S.-Mexico border in both states.

Fish and Wildlife officials were under a court-appointed deadline Monday to revise the reintroduction program.

The agency says it also will list the Mexican gray wolves as an endangered subspecies. Environmentalists had sought the listing that spares the animals from any threat of gray wolves overall losing federal protections.