Weekly Roundup – January 18th

Photo Credit:  Eli Nixon https://www.flickr.com/photos/really_still_photography

Photo Credit: Eli Nixon

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
–Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m off to a very slow start in the new year, but the news keeps on coming! I will try this for a week or two:  a roundup of stories and photos,  most nature-related, some as follow-up my prior posts.

It was hard to miss this story– 2014 was the warmest year on record according to both NASA and NOAA.

In northern New Mexico we had a couple of cold, foggy days early in the week along with two or three of inches of snow helping, I hope, our new piñon trees put down roots.  But according to this article in the Santa Fe New Mexican the long term outlook for the Southwest’s piñon forests is dire.  As temperatures continue to warm the prediction is that we will experience longer droughts and the loss of our trees along with wildlife, like the squawking jays at our backyard feeder, that depend upon them for sustenance and cover.

The other big news in our region was this press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) about changes to the management of the Mexican gray wolf recovery program.

Some of it was good news.  The wolves, a subspecies of the gray wolf (Canis lupus), got their own separate listing as an endangered subspecies (Canis lupus baileyi) which will allow them to receive continued protection under the law even if the gray wolf is delisted.  The bad news is that the lobos will not be allowed to roam and  establish territory north of Interstate 40 in areas like the Grand Canyon where prime habitat exists for them to live and hunt.  This editorial  favoring more robust protection of the wolves, as I do, was published at azcentral.com  and covers more of the pros and cons of the new rule.

In California a few days into Tommy Caldwell  and Kevin Jorgeson’s barehanded climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, their story was covered on NBC Nightly News, capturing the world’s imagination.  I thought about them each day and was thrilled to hear that they succeeded.  Here is the New York Times article about their adventure.  And for another take on it, this poem published at PoetryFoundation.org.

And finally, how lovely is this soaring golden eagle captured on camera by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Have a good week!








Wolves and Public Opinion

There are only 83 Mexican gray wolves left in the wild. I think that makes them worth fighting for.  I am 13 years old, and I want to help save the lobos of the Southwest. 
Faith Kindred, Parker City, Indiana
Letter to the Editor in the Rio Grande Sun–Española, NM

 Photo Credit: Mark Dumont via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Mark Dumont via Compfight cc

Letters matter.  I’ve written several–to the editors of the Santa Fe and Albuquerque daily newspapers, to the New Mexico Game and Fish Department, and more than one to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service(USFWS)–all in support of the Mexican gray wolf.  Before this year ends there is one more opportunity to register an opinion with the USFWS about ongoing efforts to reestablish the lobo in the wild.

USFWS has been working for more than a year on changes to the rule that governs the Mexican wolf reintroduction effort, conducting public hearings and soliciting comments.  In late November they issued this press release along with the final Environmental Impact Study and draft Record of Decision (ROD).

The ROD outlines the four alternatives under consideration and explains the rationale for the one USFWS has selected to pursue.  This article from the Arizona Daily Star (reprinted on the Lobos of the Southwest website) from November 26th explains and summarizes the decision and also includes reactions from environmentalists and ranching organizations.  USFWS will finalize the ROD in January and is accepting public comments through December 27th.

Lobos of the Southwest provides this guide to submitting comments along with a link to the USFWS website.  For a better understanding of the opposing viewpoint I found it helpful to read about Arizona Cattlemen’s Association’s  Fight & Fix Campaign on their website.

And now it’s time I started working on that letter.

Wolf News: the good, the bad, and the worrisome

One way to grasp the main perspectives of environment and biodiversity is to understand the origins and precious nature of a single living form, a single manifestation of the miracle of existence; if one has truly understood a crane–or a leaf or a cloud or a frog–one has understood everything.
–Peter Matthiessen The Birds of Heaven

 Photo Credit: Mark Dumont via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Mark Dumont viamot Compfight cc

One evening last week the Mexican Wolf Blue Range Reintroduction Project Monthly Update landed in my email inbox.  Part newsletter, part report card,  it often reads like a dry government report, but study it carefully and it comes alive, providing a glimpse into the life of a wolf.

When it arrived  I  stopped what I was doing and scrolled to the section called Mortalities.  In good months there are none, but that wasn’t the case in November.  An alpha male was “located dead in Arizona”.  No details provided, but the most likely cause of death for  a wild wolf  is being shot (illegally) or hit by a vehicle.

Also included are  individual summaries or report cards, for each pack.  They are based on weekly telemetry flights that pinpoint the locations of the radio-collared wolves and field observations (gathered both in person on the ground and  from motion-sensitive trail cameras).

Nineteen packs (primarily made up of multi-generational families) are currently living in the reintroduction area which includes the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests  and the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona and the Gila National Forest in New Mexico.  Below is a brief look at two of the packs.

The Bluestem Pack This family has long been established in the central part of the Apache-Sitgreaves.  The current alpha pair has been together for a few years and has raised several litters of pups.  The pack is large right now–thirteen–with juveniles and pups  (born in 2013 and 2014, respectively) running with the parents.  The juveniles may soon start to disperse to try to find mates and establish new territories.

Rarely has this family of wolves gotten into trouble, but in November they killed a cow.  The sequence of events after the depredation probably went something like this.  A rancher found one of his cows dead and reported it to the field team overseeing the reintroduction program.  They investigated the carcass, determined that a wolf had made the kill, and probably had a pretty good idea which pack was responsible, but used the telemetry reports for confirmation.  Often they will identify a specific wolf or wolves, but in this case they did not, reporting only that it was “adults and juveniles in the Bluestem Pack”.

The Hawks Nest Pack This is a new family of wolves related to the Bluestem Pack–the alpha female was part of their 2012 litter.  They have established a territory further north in the Apache-Sitgreaves and are raising their first litter, the grandpups of the Bluestem Pack’s  alpha pair. The only news for this pack in November was that the field team confirmed two more pups in addition  to the one that was captured and collared a few months ago.

It will be a week or two into the new year before the next update is issued.  In the meantime the only way to keep track of the Bluestem and Hawks Nest wolves will be via the sporadically published telemetry reports.

Meet the Mexican Gray Wolf – A Short Video

My very first post in July of 2013 was about Mexican gray wolves.  I have continued to write about them every few weeks, telling the stories of one family of wolves, the Bluestem Pack, that runs, hunts and raises their pups in the  White Mountains of Arizona.

Photo Credit: Rebecca Bose

Photo Credit: Rebecca Bose

Although the Bluestem Pack continues to thrive after living in the wild for over twelve years, the survival of the rare Mexican wolf (a cousin to the gray wolves of Yellowstone) is still in doubt. At the last official count there were only 83 of them living in a portion of their historical habitat in New Mexico and Arizona.

I recently found this video called Meet the Mexican Gray Wolf on Facebook.  Prepared by Sawtooth Legacy Films, it is a good concise introduction to the Mexican wolf. In less than three minutes it tells more about the endangered mammals in pictures and videos than I could in a thousand words.

In late November The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued a draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS) proposing changes to the Mexican wolf recovery effort.  At more than 500 pages it’s not a quick read–more about that in an upcoming post.

In the meantime Lobos of the Southwest keeps their website and Facebook page updated daily with links to the USFWS documents, information on where and how to comment, and the most recent articles and letters to the editor concerning Mexican wolf recovery.

Bluestem Pack – Fall 2014 Update

While no longer an icon for pristine wilderness, the wolf is a symbol for conscientious caring for the environment, for conservation that is enduring.
George Rabb

 Photo Credit: Eric Kilby via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Eric Kilby via Compfight cc

By now the Bluestem’s newest members, pups born in the spring, have felt the chill of the coming winter and have chased their first snowflakes.  They are half-grown, six-months-old, big enough and strong enough to run with the pack.

Field team members, who monitor the location and status of the endangered Mexican gray wolves, observed the pack of eleven feeding on an elk carcass near Lake Sierra Blanca in mid-October.  The lake is in the heart of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests in Arizona, the traditional territory of the pack.

The Bluestem Pack, really an extended family of related wolves, is made up of the alpha pair (parents), five juveniles born in 2013, and one collared* male pup born this year.  The others are probably pups from this year’s litter that have yet to be captured and collared.  According to Jane Packard in Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation (edited by D. Mech and L. Boitani) the function of the family group at this stage is to provide a hunting school which gives the juveniles, “opportunities to hone their hunting skills while traveling with the family”.  She goes on to say, “most wolves disperse from their natal pack between the ages of 9 and 36 months”.

Only one of the wolves, a female, from the 2013 litter has dispersed.  She has been traveling for several months further south in the Apache-Sitgreaves and, so far, there have been no reports that she has found a mate or joined another pack.

It’s a dangerous world out in the wild for wolves.  Of the four pups born to the Bluestem Pack in 2012 three died before reaching their second birthdays.  The one surviving wolf from the litter, a female, dispersed, found a mate, and is now the alpha female in the Hawks Nest Pack.  They have established a territory north of the Bluestems’s and are raising at least one pup.

Twelve years ago the original Bluestem alpha pair and several of their pups and juveniles were released in a  place called Fish  Bench. It’s not too far from where the pack runs, hunts, and raises their young today, proof that, in  spite of being hunted to near extinction, Mexican wolves never forgot how to be wild.

*Pups are captured by the field team to verify their genetics, check their physical condition and to outfit them with radio collars for tracking purposes.


Bluestem Pack – Summer 2014 Update

As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back;
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
Rudyard Kipling

 Photo Credit: James Zeschke via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: James Zeschke via Compfight cc

The Bluestem Pack still runs in the White Mountains of Arizona–twelve years after the original family of wolves was released into the wild.  Last week a telemetry flight located the alpha pair, AF1042 and AM1341, and five pups born in 2013 a few miles south of Noble Peak. It appears they probably also have new pups, born in the spring of this year.

When I last wrote an update back in April, little was known about AM1341.  A few months after the Bluestem’s prior alpha male, AM806, was illegally shot in the summer of 2012, an unidentified male began traveling with the pack.  In January, 2014 he was  captured, collared, and assigned a studbook number, but it took a  genetics test to  confirm that he was the father of last year’s pups.

The pack has gotten into some trouble over the last two months.  One of the 2013 pups, f1332, has been traveling alone for several weeks and in June killed a calf.  A second incident occurred in mid-July when a wolf injured two horses; telemetry reports confirmed that it was AF1042, the alpha female.

Most of the Bluestem Pack’s 2012 pups (the last litter fathered by AM806) have perished, but one, F1280, survives and has become the alpha female of the Hawks Nest Pack.  The two wolves (AF1280 and AM1038) have established their territory in the north-central portion of the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona and were recently located a few miles west of Gobbler Peak.  In late July the field team documented the alpha pair howling accompanied by one or two pups.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted  public hearings last week  in Arizona and New Mexico  to take comments on  proposed  changes to the rule that governs the management of the small population of Mexican wolves  that live in the wild.  Fish and Wildlife’s final decision, expected in January,  will greatly impact the odds that today’s pups will be able to find mates and establish territories–to survive and thrive.

I attended the meeting in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico on Wednesday night and the comments mostly favored the lobos, but they still have a long way to go.  I’ll write more about the proposed rule changes and the  hearing in upcoming posts.

Welcome to Wolf Week!

Yes, it’s true.  I borrowed the idea from the Discovery Channel, but I promise no snarling, growling, menacing wolves here.

Mexican Gray Wolf at Wildlife West Nature Park Photo Credit:  Paula Nixon

Mexican Gray Wolf at Wildlife West Nature Park
Photo Credit: Paula Nixon

It’s a big week for the Mexican gray wolves native to the Southwest with two public hearings scheduled to discuss their future.  The first will be held in Pinetop, Arizona tonight, the second in Truth or Consequences (T or C), New Mexico on Wednesday night.  US Fish and Wildlife officials will conduct both hearings, giving the public an opportunity to voice their opinions about  proposed rule changes to the reintroduction program, which has allowed the wolves to be reintroduced into their historic range over the last sixteen years.  This recent article in the Arizona Republic provides more details.

Stay tuned for the story of Ernesta, a female wolf recently re-released to the wild with a new mate and pups; an update on the Bluestem Pack, successfully living in the wild for twelve years; and the tale of a road trip to T or C.










RIP – Huckleberry (M1275, Bluestem Pack)

Huckleberry_MacabeWood“In April, M1275 was found dead in Arizona.  The incident is under investigation.”  No other details were provided in the Endangered Species Update that arrived in my email inbox late Saturday afternoon.  On April 21st the two-year-old  had been located by radio telemetry, alone but in the Bluestem Pack’s traditional territory with the other pack members (the alpha pair and six pups) nearby.

M1275 was born in the  spring of 2012.  In this video shot in the summer of that same year,  the field team captured the wolf pup, gave him a quick examination, outfitted him with a radio collar and set him free.  A few months later he was named Huckleberry by a kindergartner in Lobos of the Southwest’s  first annual pup naming contest.  He continued to travel with the Bluestem Pack after a new litter of pups was born in 2013 and probably helped to feed and care for them after the alpha male (M806) was illegally shot last summer.

Life in the wild is tough for wolves–92 of them died between 1998 (when they were first released) and 2012 (the most recent year for which numbers are available).  Causes of death have included:  vehicle collision, disease, asphyxiation after a snake bite, and starvation, but by far the largest number of those deaths (47 of the 92) were caused by illegal shootings.  It’s too early to know for sure what happened to M1275, but I’ll keep watching for more details and asking, if they aren’t forthcoming in future updates.

Just over forty years ago President Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act  which has enabled the recovery and reintroduction into the wild of the Mexican gray wolf.   It seems fitting to remember his words from that day, “Nothing is more priceless and worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed.”

May 21, 2014  Note: Yesterday I looked at the most recent telemetry flight locations dated May 12th and was surprised, and hopeful, to see M1275 on the report.  I called the field team’s office in Alpine, Arizona and spoke to Cathy Taylor who researched the discrepancy; she confirmed that M1275 had died and was found on April 21st.  That’s the reason he was reported separate from the pack on the telemetry report referenced in my original post. 

The May 12th telemetry report is incorrect, probably the result of a typographical error.  Taylor was not able to tell me anything more about the cause of death, but did confirm that M1275’s body was shipped to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s forensics laboratory in Ashland, Oregon where a necropsy will be conducted.


Earth Day and the Bluestem Pack

It seemed fitting that the governor of Arizona vetoed Senate Bill 1211 last Tuesday, Earth Day.  The bill, which would have allowed ranchers and their employees to kill a wolf on federal land if caught harming or killing livestock, spent the last  three months making its way through committees and both houses of the legislature.  Citizens voiced their opinions, both for and against the proposed legislation, in calls and emails to state lawmakers and in letters to the editors of local newspapers.

 Photo Credit: Tuzen via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Tuzen via Compfight cc

Mexican gray wolves, reintroduced in Arizona in 1998, are protected by the Endangered Species Act, which also governs the reintroduction program.  In her veto letter Governor Brewer reiterated her support of states’ rights, but also recognized that SB1211 would have conflicted with federal law and called the bill unnecessary.

Meanwhile, oblivious to the battle in the Arizona statehouse,  the Bluestem Pack continued to run and  hunt halfway across the state in the White Mountains.  The most recent monthly report (dated April 24th and prepared by the field team that monitors the wolves’ activity)  located the  alpha pair, a juvenile male, and six pups born in 2013 just south of Big Lake, part of their traditional territory in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.

Big Lake  by P. Nixon

Big Lake
by P. Nixon

During March the field team also conducted a predation study and found two elk carcasses that had recently been killed and eaten by the pack. In twelve years of living in the wild, the Bluestem Pack has seldom harassed or killed livestock.

One exception occurred last November when the wolves killed a cow.  The incident, reported by a rancher, was investigated by the field team and was assigned, based on radio telemetry reports, to AF1042 (the alpha female) and  m1275 (the two-year-old male).  Although I don’t know the details, the rancher was likely reimbursed for his monetary loss.

The outcome could have been very different had a law like SB1211 been in place at the time of the depredation.  The two wolves, if caught, could have been shot on sight, no questions asked, leaving the pack without their alpha (breeding) female.  Instead, the Bluestem Pack still runs, intact, and has not killed any more livestock.

It is the season for new litters of Mexican wolf pups, typically born in April or May.  Soon we’ll find out if the Bluestem Pack has any new members.

Note:  On April 23, 2014 Governor Brewer also vetoed House Bill 2699, a similar bill to SB1211.


Wonders of April: Mars and Mexican Wolves

Snow is in the forecast this weekend for New Mexico, but the lilac bushes are full of buds and the temperature reached seventy degrees earlier this week.  Summer is inching closer each day.

In the meantime, April offers a great view of Mars and a new wolf pack in the Apache National Forest.

 Earth and Mars to Scale Photo Credit: Bluedharma via Compfight cc

Earth and Mars to Scale
Photo Credit: Bluedharma via Compfight cc

On April 8th, last Tuesday, the sun and earth and Mars lined up.  The orbit of Mars around the sun takes about twice as long as earth’s so this opposition of Mars only occurs  once every twenty-six months. For a few more days as the sun goes down, Mars will rise in the east and will be overhead by midnight.  In the morning as the sun comes up, Mars will be setting in the west. The red planet is easy to spot since it is the brightest object in the sky, except for the waxing moon.

 Photo Credit: James Zeschke via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: James Zeschke via Compfight cc

In another rare occurrence, a pair of wolves was released on April 2nd in Arizona, part of the Mexican Gray wolf recovery program.  The special thing about these two wolves is that the male, M1290,  was born in the wild in 2012 and his mate, F1218,  was born in captivity.  The two were paired after the male was trapped earlier this year and have spent the breeding season together in captivity.  If all goes as planned, M1290’s experience growing up in the wild will  help them establish a territory, dig a den (if the female is pregnant), and hunt deer and elk.  When F1218 does give birth to a litter, she will  bring new, much needed, diversity to the gene pool of the wild population.  The Arizona Game and Fish Department filmed the release of the pair, now known as the Hoodoo Pack.

Dark clouds gathered over the Jemez Mountains this evening and the air cooled quickly, no view of Mars tonight.   As I watched from the kitchen window,  the storm moved closer and I thought about M1290 and F1218.  So much depends upon their ability to learn quickly how to live wild.  But tonight they are just two wolves, eyes shining, ears tuned to every sound, running through the ponderosa pines and Douglas firs of the dark, quiet forest..

For more news and information about the Mexican gray wolf recovery program check out this website.