San Carlos considers signing memorandum
By John Kamin, assistant editor
The San Carlos Apache Reservation is considering joining the new management program for the Blue Range Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Program.
Arizona Game and Fish Department Nongame Chief Terry Johnson said during a Thursday interview that the reservation is considering joining the Adaptive Management Work Group. The work group is comprised of members of many different agencies and counties, all of whom are involved with the reintroduction program. It includes Graham County Supervisor Mark Herrington and Greenlee County Supervisor Hector Ruedas.
The addition of the San Carlos Apache Reservation to the group “would enable us to be able to have the full field team available to work on the reservation at their invitation, as under their direction,” Johnson said. While monitoring of wolves on the reservation already goes on, he said, the reservation could benefit from the presence of the field team.
There are several ways the San Carlos Apache could increase the presence of wolf experts who could supervise the wolves.
“They could write a letter for us to assist in monitoring wolves on the reservation,” Johnson said. “We could reach an agreement on the existing Memorandum of Under-standing.”
The Memorandum of Understanding is the agreement that was reached by members of the work group.
“We just don’t have that relationship yet because they’ve said from the outset that they don’t want wolves,” he said. “It’s very encouraging the San Carlos representatives came to the interagency meeting.”
The meeting Johnson refers to is the meeting that happened on Jan. 28. It was preceded by a meeting of the work group, which Johnson said is slowly making progress.
The group was formed after Johnson and members of the public felt the project was straying from including public opinion in the project. He said the group is intended to include anyone with an interest in the reintroduction project.
The group includes the Arizona Game and Fish Department, New Mexico Game and Fish Department, U.S. Department of Agriculture- Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services/Wildlife Services, U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, Graham County, Greenlee County, Navajo County, Catron County, Sierra County and the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.
Wolves in the field
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Field Coordinator John Oakleaf attended the Jan. 28 meeting and gave a confirmed depredation count of 63 since the reintroduction project began.
The 2003 wolf report showed a total of 15 possible depredations with five confirmed attacks by wolves, seven probable attacks and three possible attacks by wolves.
This number was challenged by Laura Schneberger of the New Mexico Cattle Grower’s Association who listed 240 depredations. Her count is much larger than Oakleaf’s because the numbers are unconfirmed by the field team. The field team must be notified immediately after a potential wolf attack to confirm the death. Ranchers such as Schneberger and Greenlee County’s Daisy Mae Cannon said that more time needs to be given to contact the team after a potential depredation.
Oakleaf said the statistic of 240 depredations are the number of cattle missing at the end of the year.
“They were not found by ranchers or reported to us,” he said.
There are now 21 wolves with radio collars, Oakleaf said.
This number is lower than the 27 collared wolves in the summer of 2001.
Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said, “The fact that only 21 radio-collared and monitored wolves are in the wild is testament to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to reform the program as advised by independent scientists.”
He said when the agency captures and re-releases the wolves, the families tend to split apart and wander into areas with higher concentrations of humans.
“The seven-member Francisco Pack trapped last year for having crossed outside the politically-derived boundary of the recovery area has lost its third member; and that is in addition to the five pups conceived in the wild that died in captivity,” Robinson said. “When the scientists recommended allowing wolves to roam like other wildlife are allowed. Back in June 2001, we had 27 radio-collared and monitored wolves in the wild. The failure to reform this program as the number of monitored wolf declines reflects an administration willing to write off the lobo and much more of America’s natural heritage.”
Oakleaf said the lower number of radio-collared wolves is not a threat to the project. He gave an example of the Yellowstone National Park Reintroduction Project that has been deemed a success, yet the number of collared wolves has not changed since the program started despite a massive increase in wolf population.
“In terms of that, radio collars are not what you estimate in a population,” Oakleaf said. “That’s just not an accurate way.”
Another factor to be considered is how many wolves have been recently released in comparison to wolves born in the wild, he said. Oakleaf noted higher amounts of wild-born wolves in this and previous interviews. In 2003, at least 20 wild-born pups were born.
Counting the pups is a timely process, he said.
“It takes time to visually see them or hear them howling,” Oakleaf said. “It’s something that we’re focused on throughout the year, even when we’re flying over now.”
He said some of the uncollared animals are captured and collared.
Oakleaf said, “Do we try to collar every animal? No. We try to represent every pack by getting multiple collars in each pack.”
By collaring several members of a wolf pack, the field teams can track the movement of the packs while still accounting for dispersals of packs, he said. There are about 11 to 15 uncollared wolves in the wild, Oakleaf said. This number does not include pups that were born this year.
“The ultimate success of the project rests in the offspring of these animals,” he said. “Those are the animals you expect to do the best. Not all of those animals are going to be collared. Certainly the proportion of wild-born to released animals is far, far higher now than ever before, and our radio-collared animals reflect that trend.”
Plane surveillance, ground crews with radio equipment, sightings by employees in the field for other purposes and reports of the general public are all resources that are used to keep track of the wolves, Johnson said.
“The primary monitoring we’ve got is certainly the flights,” he said. After learning that the Fish and Wildlife Service would not be able to contribute any funding to the flights for the rest of the state fiscal year, Johnson said the New Mexico and Arizona game and fish departments will share the bill for the flights.
“As a group, we are becoming better at putting issues up on the table,” he said. Johnson noted the program’s design in the past would have been limited by the lack of funding, whereas now the government agencies are working together.
One topic of discussion among ranchers and conservationists is the fact that there are less than six breeding pairs of wolves in the wild. When asked about the significance of the number, Oakleaf explained the breeding pair number about whether permits may be issued allowing ranchers to shoot a wolf that is seen attacking a cow on public land.
“Currently, any rancher can shoot a wolf attacking a cow on private land,” Oakleaf said. He said the deaths of alpha animals have not had a severe impact on the project because of their natural replacements. Oakleaf noted the Francisco, Gapiwi and Cienega alpha wolves have been seen with new, uncollared mates.
“I recently saw the Francisco animal over in New Mexico chasing an elk with another wolf from the plane,” Oakleaf said.
Two more wolf deaths occurred in January, according to the 2003 report. The deaths of Alpha Female 587 of the Bonito Creek Pack (Jan. 16) and Female 800 of the Francisco Pack (Jan. 22) are being investigated. Standard procedure dictates that the wolves must be sent for necropsy analysis at a Fish and Wildlife Center lab in Oregon.
Necropsy reports confirmed that female wolf 644 from the Cerro Pack (found May 25, 2003) and female wolf 856 of the Bluestem Pack (found Aug. 26, 2003) died as a result of gunshot wounds.
The necropsy report for male 801 (Oct. 7, 2003) of the Francisco Pack was confirmed to be caused by a collision with a vehicle.
Robinson announced the Center for Biological Diversity, the Fish and Wildlife Service and many other non-profit groups are teaming up to offer a $45,000 award for apprehension and conviction of anyone who illegally kills a Mexican wolf.
At the meeting, Oakleaf reassured conservationists that the deaths are not caused by one person.
“The thing is that it’s a pretty well widespread distribution of where these animals are dying in New Mexico and Arizona,” he said. “It’s all over the board. I don’t think it’s just one person running around doing it all.”