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AZ: Wolves seen ‘hanging out’ in Alpine

By Trudy Balcom
The Independent

ALPINE — A pair of young Mexican gray wolves living in the Alpine area were seen on the edge of town last week, prompting a response from the Mexican Gray Wolf Interagency Field Team.

The wolves, a collared female and a collared male, joined up earlier this spring and have been dubbed the Prime Canyon Pack. The pair has not yet produced any pups, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials.

Members of the public reported the wolves’ behavior to the field team June 6. The Interagency Field Team is involved with the day-to-day management of the Mexican gray wolf re-introduction in Arizona. It is made up of representatives of Arizona Game and Fish, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, USDA-Wildlife Services, and the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

Sherry Barrett, Mexican wolf recovery coordinator for USFWS, said the wolves are in the area because elk are also hanging out near the town of Alpine.

“We’ve had a lot of elk in Alpine, that’s drawing the pack,” she said. Elk are calving during the month of June, and that also attracts the wolves to a natural food source — the young calves. Alpine residents have even reported seeing elk cows calving in the back yards of some area homes.

The male wolf has been seen close to homes on the south side of Alpine, but the female keeps her distance.

“There have been a couple of instances where the male is not showing fear of humans,” Barrett said.

The pair of wolves has not attacked pets or livestock, or shown any aggressive behavior, Barrett said.

Wolf managers want to condition the wolves to have a fear of humans and to keep their distance — it’s called avoidance behavior.

On June 8, responding to the concerns of area residents about the wolves’ behavior, a member of the Interagency Field Team located and hazed the male wolf. Using rubber pellets as ammunition, the wolf was shot; the pellets do not cause the wolf serious injury. They also used loud “cracker shells” to frighten the animal. The goal of these actions is to teach the animal avoidance behavior.

In the case of this particular wolf, the hazing appears to have worked. A member of the Interagency Field Team attempted to get another shot at the male wolf for the next three days, but couldn’t get close enough.

Barrett said the female in the Prime Canyon Pack was hazed earlier and appears to have learned her lesson as well.

“She’s been hanging back in the woods,” Barrett said.

Wolf managers said that while the Prime Canyon Pack is new to the Alpine area, the region is home turf to several wolf packs, including one on Escudilla Mountain. They said it’s not unusual for people to spot wolves from time to time in the Alpine area.

Arizona Game and Fish officials say the public should contact them if they see a wolf behaving in an unacceptable manner — one that does not show fear of humans, shows curiosity about humans, or acts aggressively.

Barrett said the public is welcome to report any wolf activity they find troubling.

“We appreciate the reports from the public,” she said, noting that such information can help wolf managers do a better job.

There are some circumstances, AZGF officials say, in which citizens may lawfully haze or even shoot a wolf.

Hazing conducted by citizens is called “opportunistic harassment,” in the federal government rules regarding Mexican wolves. This harassment is allowed so long as it does not cause “permanent physical injury or death,” and that firearms or projectiles used in the harassment are not aimed directly at the wolves. Additionally, citizens may not attract or track down wolves for the purpose of harassing them.

Citizens may shoot wolves, bears or mountain lions to protect their own life or the life of another person. Wolves may also be shot if they are found on private, non-federal land in the act of “biting or killing livestock or non-feral dogs.”

To report questionable wolf behavior, call 623-236-7201, 24 hours a day. For more details about federal rules regarding Mexican gray wolves, see the information sheet attached to this story on www.wmicentral.com.

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