Still Waiting

Photo Credit: Mark Dumont Flickr via Compfight cc

Any day now the new recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves will be released.  Here’s my story, published in the Albuquerque Journal, about New Mexico’s Leopold Pack and the importance of a new plan.

Veterano Sanctuary 

Coyotes
howling.
Full moon,
half-crazy.

Paint job
sun-baked,
half faded
summer nights
leave us half-faded.
Aye que Burque!
She’s one crazy lady!
—Carlos Contreras Time Served

I discovered Albuquerque poet Carlos Contreras in the AAA New Mexico magazine and was pleased to find  his book at my local library.

From the interview: “Like exercise is good for the body, words are good for the heart and soul.” I couldn’t agree more.
 

Twenty-Three Lobo Pups Have New Names

Once again it’s spring and last year’s Mexican wolf pups born in the wild have been given names by kids ranging from kindergartners to 8th-graders.  This was the fifth year of Lobos of the Southwest’s contest and there were so many creative entries.  You can see all of them here.

Artwork courtesy of McKenna H. & Lobos of the Southwest

Eleven wolf families had pups that got names.

Bear Wallow Pack: Zyanya

Bluestem Pack:  Atira, Chico, Keystone, Moonlight

Diamond Pack:  Aleu, Argentum, Rio Espiritu, Spirit, Ulv

Elkhorn Pack:  River

Hoodoo Pack:  Moon Beam, Willow

Iron Creek Pack:  Fortitudo, Zeus

Leopold Pack:  Akela

Luna Pack:  Pluto

Essay courtesy of Adel V. and Lobos of the Southwest

Panther Creek Pack:  Centinela, Da-Kari, Rakesh

Prieto Pack:  Paz, Peaceful

San Mateo Pack:  Sentouki

Some of the names not assigned to pups were reserved in the event more pups (from the 2016 litters) are captured and collared.  Two of those runners-up are featured here.

Thank you to all of the kids who participated and put so much thought and effort into names for the wolf pups.  Long live the lobos!

 

 

Norma’s Leap of Faith

So many people have put so much time and effort into the recovery of the endangered population of Mexican gray wolves.  One of the earliest was Norma Ames the team leader of the group that wrote the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan published in 1982.  Below is a brief piece I wrote about her. #LoboWeek

Photo Credit: Mark Dumont via Compfight cc

The wolf presented the mangled trophy to Norma–a dead ground squirrel.  That was the moment she began to believe the beleaguered Mexican gray wolf had a shot at making a comeback in the wild.

Norma Ames, trained as a biologist, was the assistant chief of the New Mexico Game and Fish Department in 1971 when she adopted two endangered wolf pups born in captivity at the Department’s Ghost Ranch facility.  She built an enclosure on her large, remote property in the forest, a place to raise and socialize the pups.

Five years after she took those first pups home (she later adopted a second pair), Mexican gray wolves, cousins to the northern gray wolf, were added to the endangered species list.  In constant conflict with ranchers in the Southwest, their population had been decimated by relentless trapping, shooting, and poisoning.   Seven wolves, called the McBride line for the trapper who captured them in the late 70s (all that he could locate), were brought in to start a breeding program.

The day Norma realized her wolves could and would still hunt she stopped the socializing, began to keep her distance.  She strove to keep them as wild as possible, hoping that someday they might be reintroduced into their native habitat.

In the early 80s Norma headed up the team that published a recovery plan for the Mexican wolf.

From the time I picked up and read the report with Norma’s name on the cover page, I wanted to know more about her, but where to go to ask questions about a woman who wrote a relatively obscure government report more than 30 years ago.  It turns out someone did find Norma and asked at least some of my questions.  Peter Steinhart recounted the story of her role in the recovery of Mexican wolves in his 1995 book The Company of Wolves.

Norma’s wolves weren’t destined for the wild.  Their lineage, Ghost Ranch, was considered tainted, not pure wolf.  She stopped breeding them and, one by one, they died of old age.  In 1987 after she had retired and was preparing to sell her place and move she had to make the tough decision to euthanize the lone survivor.  She did it to save the wolf from living out its life in a cage at a zoo.

But in 1997, the year before the first McBride wolves were released in the mountains of Arizona, genetic testing confirmed that the Ghost Ranch lineage, which had been maintained in New Mexico, was pure and the two lines, plus another from Mexico, were crossbred, giving the population a much-needed genetic boost and a better chance at recovery.

Wolves mate once a year in the winter, typically in February.  Norma died in February of 2005, seven years into the reintroduction effort.  Recovery was inching forward, with long term survival of Mexican wolves still not assured.  But by then there were eleven families of wolves running free in Arizona and New Mexico and several of the breeding wolves had been born in the wild.

More than twenty wolf pups were born in the spring of 2005 with at least ten still surviving at the end of the year.   Some of them carried Ghost Ranch genes.

Bobcat Winter

Washington—Officials are searching for a female bobcat they say has escaped from the National Zoo.  Ollie, a 25 pound female bobcat was last seen in her enclosure around 7:30 a.m. Monday. USA Today 1/30/17

Bobcat
Photo by Paula Nixon

Winter this year seemed to be filled with bobcat sightings and bobcat stories.

Back in January, I wrote about seeing a bobcat outside my kitchen window. I got a good look at him, but was disappointed to find he had managed to avoid my wildlife camera strapped to a nearby piñon tree.   A few days later I got the above shot—maybe the same cat, but no way to know for sure.

I was ready to post the photo when I ran across this story about a bobcat in Sedona, Arizona.  Game and Fish officials tried to trap the animal after it bit and scratched four people, but ended up having to kill it when it evaded capture.  Tests confirmed what they suspected—the bobcat had rabies.  I decided to call my local game department to find out if there was anything unusual about seeing a bobcat walk through my backyard in broad daylight, not once, but twice.

A few weeks passed and I still hadn’t made the call when I saw the bobcat again.  This time he passed within fifteen feet of the back door, crossing the patio while Dave and I watched in amazement.  He never turned to look at us and seemed to be focused on something that only he could sense, maybe a rabbit.  He flicked his stub of a tail and was gone.

Rick Winslow with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish listened when I told him about my multiple bobcat sightings and said it wasn’t uncommon to see them out and about during the day.  He assured me that rabies is extremely rare in our area—the last case he could recall was years ago in the southern part of New Mexico.

And since then, not a sign of the bobcat.  I’m certain he’s still out there, just keeping a low profile.

After a two-plus day walkabout in the leafy wilds of northern Washington an escaped bobcat returned to the National Zoo and walked right into a trap where some “goodies” had been left for her Wednesday, zookeepers said.
Ben Nuckols—Associated Press 2/1/17

 

The Legacy of Mexican Wolf F521

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

The deadline to submit comments on the 2017 Wolf Release Proposal is tonight at 11:59 pm.  If you have read it, maybe you wondered about the wolf called F521 (her studbook number) and how it came to be that so many of the small population of Mexican wolves living in the wild are so closely related to her.

I first discovered F521 years ago in a monthly status report.

She was born on the side of a mountain in 1997 at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs.  Zookeepers called her Estrella, star in Spanish.  She and her littermates were special because of their genetics, a mix of two of the three lineages of the small captive population.

At the age of five, F521 was released with her mate and family (2 juvenile pups and five new pups) in the White Mountains of Arizona. It was the summer of 2002, early on in the Mexican wolf reintroduction effort (at the time there were approximately 26 wolves living in the wild), and no one knew how this family, named the Bluestem Pack, would adapt to life in the wild.

In the first few weeks they had to be hazed away from a ranch and killed a blue heeler before settling in and chasing down their first elk.  They established a territory and the next spring F521 gave birth to her first litter of wild-born pups.  She remained the alpha (breeding) female of the Bluestem Pack for six years, outliving one mate, finding another, and continuing to raise new litters of pups each year.  Some of those pups went on to establish new packs and have litters of their own.

In 2008 one of F521’s female offspring, F1042, replaced her as the alpha female in the pack.

The old wolf, probably no longer welcome in her pack, sometimes ran alone and sometimes ran with another pack.  In December of 2010 she was found dead in the Gila National Forest, killed in an illegal shooting.  F521 was thirteen.

Once again it is breeding season for wolves and the Bluestem Pack still lives in the White Mountains with F1042 as the alpha female.  In late April or early May  pups will be born.

The numbers cited in the 2017 proposal are surprising and alarming. Of the eighteen potential breeding pairs living in the wild in 2017, three  have one adult that is a descendant of F521 and fifteen have both adults that are descendants of F521. Inbreeding has always posed a threat for Mexican gray wolves.  They came so close to extinction that there were only seven founders when breeding in captivity began.

Fifteen years ago when F521 was released in the wild she was a star not only in name, but also in the genetic potential she offered to the wild population.  She did her part—  she lived wild and free for more than eight years and raised lots of pups.

The most recent estimate of Mexican wolves living in the wild is 113. A combination of too few wolves being released and too many wolves being killed illegally has led to the current dire situation.

More wolves from the captive population need to be released immediately.

The 2017 proposal is a start—2 families and 10 cross-fostered pups—a move in the right direction.

Please take a moment to send an email to mexicanwolfcomments@fws.gov in support of the proposed releases.

 

New Snow and a Bobcat Sighting

The wild things that live on my farm are reluctant to tell me, in so many words, how much of my township is included in their daily or nightly beat. —Aldo Leopold

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting at the kitchen table reading A Sand County Almanac when a shadow on the fresh snow outside caught my eye.  Thinking it was probably a rabbit, I went to the window for a closer look and was surprised to see a bobcat, unmistakable with his short tail and tufted ears.

I ran downstairs and out the back door thinking he would  have disappeared into the trees, but found that he had, instead, circled around the big boulder and car parked in the drive.  He stopped short when he saw me and we studied each other across the gravel driveway for a few moments before he turned and vanished.

Bobcat Tracks. Photo by: Paula Nixon

Bobcat Tracks.
Photo by: Paula Nixon

I followed his tracks and discovered he had come from a neighbor’s yard via a small opening between two latillas in the coyote fence, just barely wide enough for a 15 to 20 pound cat to squeeze through.

Bobcats are not uncommon in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (I sometimes catch them on my camera trap), but this was only my second sighting in twenty years—the perfect excuse to get out of the house and enjoy the first snow of 2017!

Coyote about Town

On a Saturday morning in November I was out running errands driving on Paseo De Peralta, the closest thing Santa Fe has to a loop. As I approached the Capitol, I was surprised to see a coyote crossing the four lane street.

Given New Mexico’s ongoing persecution of coyotes, I imagined she was on her way to the office of Animal Protection Voters (apvnm), just across the street from the Round House, perhaps  to take up the issue of killing contests or trapping on public lands but, of course,  she had her own agenda.

She looked a little scroungy with her beat-up half tail, but she knew where she was going as surely as I knew the way to the grocery store.

Before I had time to reach for my camera she had disappeared.

Coyote Photo By: Paula Nixon

Coyote
Photo By: Paula Nixon

Back in my yard I’ve been fussing with my camera trap trying out different locations, each for a few days at a time, checking to see who passes by.  In the last year we have added walls, stairs, and an iron gate.  I was curious if all of the changes had caused the bears, bobcats, and coyotes to abandon their old trails across our lot.

Finally, after my most recent attempt with the camera trained on the driveway  (a pathway down the mountain long before we showed up) I found this photo–a coyote on the first Friday of December about 4 o’clock.  

No way to know for certain, but she looks a lot like the one I spotted in town last month.

Too Many Words

I have been trying to figure out what to write since Tuesday night. I finally decided—not much.   It’s been a loud, long campaign and now it is finally over.   We all need a break, a little peace and quiet.

I will share a couple of  brief comments from two of my favorite writers who inspired me this week.

From Terry Tempest Williams on election night:

A couple of days later from Sherman Alexie:

And finally, from Hillary Rodham Clinton in her November 9th speech:  “Make sure your voices are heard going forward . . . Fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

Good night.  Don’t forget to go outside and take a look at the full moon.  EarthSky says it will be “equally awesome” tonight and tomorrow night (November 13th and 14th).

An Abundance of Pinon

 

Photo by Paula Nixon

Photo by Paula Nixon

Most of the piñon trees around my house have open cones this year, some with the dark brown pine nuts still ensconced within.  I hadn’t noticed them until I talked to Rick Winslow, a wildlife biologist with the NM game department, about a bear scat filled with piñon shells I found in the yard–turns out bears love the buttery nuts as much as the squirrels and jays. Winslow mentioned there had been lots of  piñon in the area for the last couple of years, which didn’t fit with what I thought I knew about New Mexico’s state tree.

I had heard the piñon pine produced once every seven years, but it really depends on the weather, how much moisture we get.  The recent years of drought have killed some of the trees, another setback.  But in the last couple of years with closer to normal rainfall, they have responded by putting on cones.

Bumper crops are few and far between (that explains the seven year theory), but this year it’s a “bull market for piñon in Northern New Mexico” according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.

The last big crop we had was in 2005.  I remember being surprised that autumn by a flock of boisterous Clark’s nutcrackers appearing out of nowhere, taking up residence in the pine outside my kitchen window.  The sleek white birds with black wings crashed the party, scaring off the piñon jays, usually the bossiest birds in the trees. Once the cones were empty, they left as quickly as they came. No sign of them yet this year.

Last week I started to gather a few of the nuts in a small bowl and spread a bedsheet on the ground and shook the branches to release those still in cones.   I was hoping to accumulate enough to roast for my sister-in-law, Kelli, who is an aficionado. The few I cracked open with my teeth (not recommended) were dried out and brown, not the plump, light-colored nuts I was expecting so I abandoned my efforts.

Maybe there are some good ones out there, but I’ll leave those for the industrious chipmunks to discover.   I’ll be checking out our local roadside vendors or ordering from New Mexico Piñon Nut Company‘s  online store. Sold unshelled, it’s a challenge to extract the tasty nuts.  Wiki-How offers a few different techniques.  The one that looks most promising  involves a can opener. I’ll let you know how it works.