“What’s a wolf without her pack?” by Karyn Dodier Snow Poems 2013
Every time I read Dodier’s one-line poem I am reminded of F521, the original alpha female of the Bluestem Pack. Last year I wrote a story, “The Missing Wolves”, about that family of endangered Mexican gray wolves living in the White Mountains of Arizona. It seems fitting that my first blog entry should be about them.
What follows is a brief history of the pack. More information is available on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website.
Outfitted with radio collars and released into the Blue Range Wolf Reintroduction Area (BRWRA) in 2002, the alpha pair (M507 and F521) learned quickly to hunt elk and deer and after their first year in the wild rarely bothered livestock. They raised several litters of pups before M507 was killed by illegal gunshot in 2006. F521 and the other pack members managed to raise the pups-of-the-year after his death and by the next breeding season M806 had joined the pack as the new alpha male. F521 and her new mate produced a litter of pups, but it would be her last. At ten years of age she was getting old.
In 2009 F1042, one of F521’s offspring with her first mate, became the new alpha female of the Bluestem Pack. F521 began to travel alone, sometimes running with the Fox Mountain Pack. In December of 2010 she was shot and killed in New Mexico near the Arizona border.
F521’s legacy lived on as the Bluestem Pack continued to thrive, having new litters each year, but last summer M806 was killed. Once again, the pack succeeded in raising the new pups without their alpha male. That is where my story left off.
I thought about the wolves frequently as fall turned into winter. At the end of the year the Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project’s interagency field team (IFT) reported that the pack had at least seven members. I wondered if they would manage to have another litter of pups; it seemed unlikely with few potential mates for F1042. But early in January of this year the IFT released a male wolf (M1133) near the Bluestem’s territory hoping that he would bond with F1042. It was an important event for the pack and also for the long term success of the Mexican gray wolves–no wolves had been released into the wild since 2008.
But the wolves didn’t bond. The newly released M1133, traveled alone in areas where he was unlikely to find other wolves according to a press release by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) so the IFT recaptured him. Again, the survival of the Bluestem Pack seemed uncertain.
And then to my amazement, the June Monthly Project Update reported that F1042 was denning (staying close to the area where the pups would be born and raised) and had three to five new pups. I emailed Susan Dicks, a wildlife biologist, with the USFWS and she confirmed that the Bluestem Pack has a new alpha male. Not much is known about him, but he appears to be an uncollared wolf. The IFT will attempt to learn more about him in upcoming survey and capture operations.
So the Bluestem Pack lives on. Soon the pups will begin to travel with the older members of the pack, running through alpine meadows, weaving through stands of ponderosa pines and aspen trees, learning to hunt elk.