Local & Regional News

Flight operations to begin Feb. 7 for annual Mexican wolf population survey

White Mountain Independent (Original) Posted February 6, 2019

PINETOP — Residents of Alpine, Reserve, New Mexico, and surrounding areas may notice a low-flying helicopter in the region between Feb. 7 and Feb. 20 as biologists conduct their annual Mexican wolf population survey and capture.

The flights are part of the Mexican wolf Reintroduction Project, a multi-agency cooperative effort among the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD), U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Service Inspection Service – Wildlife Services and the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

Survey flights will occur — weather permitting — on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, the Apache-Sitgreaves, Gila and Cibola National Forests in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico and possibly some locations immediately outside forest boundaries.

“Each year this survey is done in the wintertime to provide a snapshot of the Mexican wolf population, by collecting critical data to help partner agencies make sound management decisions in the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program,” said Paul Greer, AZGFD Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team leader. “Additionally, data collected helps us know how these animals are using habitat in Arizona and New Mexico.”

As part of the operation, biologists will attempt to capture selected wolves born in 2018 that have not yet been fitted with a radio telemetry collar, in addition to those with collars that need a battery replacement or any wolf appearing to be sick or injured. Wolves are captured after being darted with an anesthetizing drug from a helicopter containing trained personnel.

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Annual wolf count delayed by government shutdown

White Mountain Independent (Original) Posted January 24, 2019 by Trudy Balcom

PINETOP — How many Mexican gray wolves are out there? That’s the question that the annual winter wolf count is designed the answer.

The aerial count was scheduled to begin January 21 and run through February 2, but has been delayed indefinitely due to the partial government shutdown.

“Our first flight was going to be the 21st, that was the plan,” said J. Paul Greer, leader of the Interagency Field Team that manages the wolves for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Greer said the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the lead agency for the aerial count. USFWS is the federal agency in charge of carrying out the Endangered Species Act and working to help animals listed as endangered, such as the Mexican gray wolf, to recover.

The annual count establishes a benchmark by which the success of the recovery of a species can be measured. Last year’s count came up with 114 Mexican gray wolves in their territory in Arizona and New Mexico, only one more wolf than was counted the previous year.

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Earth Notes: Mexican Gray Wolf Cross-Fostering

KNAU Arizona Public Radio (Original) Posted January 9, 2019 by Ryan Heinsius

Mexican gray wolves were once common throughout the southwest United States and into central Mexico. But their populations were decimated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as human settlement exploded. Prey decline, habitat degradation, and federal predator control programs all but wiped out the animals. By the 1970s, Mexican wolves had almost completely disappeared from the wild.

Some remained in captive breeding programs, and in the late 1990s the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced them in eastern Arizona and New Mexico. Though their numbers have grown, the animals have been plagued by a lack of genetic diversity, which limits reproduction.

The endangered southwestern populations have struggled to gain a foothold. Mexican wolves remain the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America, with just over a hundred in the wild.

To help them along, biologists have applied an experimental technique in recent years called cross-fostering. They swap out wild or captive-born pups into wild litters, and the young are then raised by surrogate parents. In theory they’ll eventually spread their genes to the greater population.

Twenty-two Mexican wolf pups have been cross-fostered in the wild so far, and officials say initial results are promising. But biologists have confirmed that only three pups have reached breeding age, and the fates of many others are unknown.

Some conservation groups are critical of cross-fostering. They’ve called for more captive-born adult wolf releases, arguing that a boost in genetic diversity is needed immediately.

Still, wildlife officials are forging ahead and plan more cross-fostering this year—in hopes that the effort will help bring Mexican gray wolves back from the brink of extinction.

Coconino Voices: In northern Arizona, climate change will matter to wildlife

Arizona Daily Sun (Original) Posted January 9, 2019 by Clare Aslan

In their newest impact assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the warming we will experience within the next 12 years will cause substantial problems for human communities, ecosystems, and economies. Significant changes aren’t as far away as we once thought.

We who live in northern Arizona know we are incredibly fortunate, surrounded by forests and canyons of deep color, topped with clear, crisp blue skies and “more sun than Florida and more snow than Denver.”

But our beautiful ecosystems are at risk, under these new projections. Here in Flagstaff, we are poised to experience particularly strong effects from climate change.

There are several reasons. One of them is Arizona’s immensely diverse topography, with landscapes ranging from desert to mixed conifer over a remarkably short distance. As temperatures change, species will move up or downslope to track the temperatures they require, with the result that we can expect significant changes in our forests, riparian areas, and valued natural sites. Additionally, one of the most significant changes in this region will be reduced precipitation: increased heat and drought means our forests will dry out faster than in the past, elevating wildfire risk substantially. Winters like 2017-18, with its low and late snowfall, give us a sense of these changes, and an idea of their impact.

Our hard-working public lands managers understand the risks of drought and warming, and closures of the forest this past summer helped to keep our wildfire incidence low, but it made it tough to take advantage of the gorgeous landscapes we call home.

So, what does all this mean for our wildlife? Whether you’re a hunter, a birder, an outdoor adventurer, a tourism small business owner, or a nature lover, wildlife are a precious resource in Arizona. We all thrill to the occasional glimpse of a coyote on a morning jog, tracks of mountain lions next to a chilly mountain stream, or the piercing white head of a bald eagle perching in the trees above our hiking trails.

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Grant Program Aims to Deter Mexican Wolf, Cattle Conflicts

KNAU Arizona Public Radio (Original) Posted January 4, 2019 by the Associated Press

Arizona ranchers can now apply for grants as part of an effort to research measures that could prevent conflicts between livestock and Mexican gray wolves.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department announced Thursday that the livestock loss board unanimously approved the grant program at its meeting in November.

Arizona ranchers applying for the funds are required to provide a match either in cash or in-kind and/or third-party funds. They must also document the method to avoid conflict being used and its effectiveness.

The board is charged with addressing the killing of livestock by Mexican gray wolves. As part of its role, the board reimburses livestock producers whose cattle were lost to the endangered predators.

The wild population of Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico reached a high of 114 wolves in 2018.

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