The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Arizona Game and Fish Department and other partners in the Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project announced earlier this week that the endangered Mexican wolf population count increased to a minimum of 58 wolves compared to last year's count of 50.

The increase is encouraging news for the multi-agency program, especially considering that the state's largest wildfire, the Wallow, burned through three packs' denning areas within weeks of pups being born.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department dedicates five staff to the Interagency Field Team (IFT), the multi-agency group that oversees on-the-ground wolf conservation activities. Game and Fish's IFT staff are responsible for the day-to-day management of wolves; coordinating and conducting the annual population counts; and, any helicopter-associated wolf captures in Arizona on public lands and on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.

In addition, the department provides pilots and fixed-wing planes to assist in locating wolves via telemetry signals prior to the helicopter counts and any capture efforts throughout the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (BRWRA), which encompasses parts of Arizona and New Mexico. This year the department conducted the surveys in Arizona, while FWS conducted them in New Mexico.

Other specially-trained Game and Fish personnel that are not part of the IFT assist with capture operations in Arizona to ensure darting and net-gunning activities are conducted in the safest and most proficient manner possible.

The IFT estimates the Mexican wolf population at a minimum count level because it is impossible to find and verify every uncollared animal that may exist in the wild. However, the 2011 population count is considered one of the most inclusive because the IFT trapped and collared 16 wolves this fall, allowing biologists to more accurately track and estimate the population than in years when fewer animals were collared.

Population survey and management activities conducted by Game and Fish's IFT staff are funded by contracts and grants from FWS; no sportsmen-generated funds are used for these count efforts.

For more information on the Mexican wolf in Arizona, visit www.azgfd.gov/wolf.

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