PINETOP — Residents of Alpine, Arizona and Reserve, New Mexico and surrounding areas may notice a low-flying helicopter in the region between Jan. 22 and Feb. 4 as biologists conduct their annual Mexican wolf population survey and capture.
The flights are part of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program, a multi-agency cooperative effort among the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD), U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Service Inspection Service – Wildlife Services, and the White Mountain Apache Tribe.
Survey flights will occur — weather permitting — on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation; the Apache-Sitgreaves, Gila and Cibola National Forests in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico; and possibly some locations immediately outside forest boundaries.
“Winter serves as the best time for this annual survey, which helps provide a snapshot of the Mexican wolf population and recruitment from 2019 reproduction,” said Paul Greer, AZGFD Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team leader. “Data collected helps AZGFD and our partners to make sound management decisions for the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program and helps us to learn further how the growing population is using habitat in Arizona and New Mexico.”
As part of the operation, biologists will attempt to capture wolves born in 2019 that have not yet been fitted with a radio telemetry collar, in addition to selected wolves with collars that need a battery replacement or any wolf appearing to be sick or injured. Wolves are captured after being darted with an anesthetizing drug by trained personnel from a helicopter.
After being immobilized, the wolf is brought by air to a staging area for processing and any necessary veterinary care. The wolf is then returned and released on public land near the area where it was captured.
The field team is contacting private landowners to gain permission to access their property to capture a wolf, if necessary, and will be coordinating with land management agencies and county sheriff offices on survey operation details prior to the start of the survey.
There were a minimum of 131 wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico at the end of 2018, according to the last survey conducted by the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team. The survey found that there was a minimum of 64 wolves in Arizona and 67 in New Mexico.