Elk captures

A Game & Fish unit surveys an area recently for deer and elk from a helicopter.

PINETOP — Biologists from the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) will be conducting helicopter deer surveys and elk captures in areas surrounding the White Mountains to the Arizona-New Mexico border beginning mid-January into February.

During this time residents in surrounding areas may notice several daily flights of a low-flying helicopter over their communities. AZGFD attempts to minimize disruption caused by these flights to the best of our ability, but the timing is necessary — especially for deer that are rutting. The rutting season frequently brings deer out into the open where they can more easily be counted for population estimates.

Elk captures are part of an ongoing study to learn more about cow and calf elk mortality and elk habitat selection in the Mexican wolf recovery areas in Arizona and New Mexico. Elk will be captured using net-guns from a helicopter or darted from the ground in Game Management Units 1, 3B, 3C and 27 with approximately 120 cow elk being fitted with GPS collars. Similar efforts are being conducted in New Mexico. The primary investigator on this elk research project is New Mexico State University with AZGFD as a partnering agency.

Helicopter surveys are conducted routinely across the state of Arizona. Population survey data helps biologists write hunt recommendations and determine the number of elk and deer tags available in units for the next two years. Surveys like these are essential to AZGFD’s science-based decision making for wildlife in our state.

Mexican Wolf population survey to continue

PINETOP — Biologists from multiple agencies working on the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team (IFT) have been surveying Mexican wolf 2020 end-of-year population numbers since Nov. 1, and are expected to continue through Feb. 4.

Population numbers are essential for the Mexican wolf due to the subspecies status as an endangered species.

Ground counts of wolf packs and single wolves in Arizona and New Mexico began Nov. 1. The ground count period lasts for the months of November and December and is followed by an aerial count and capture operation conducted by the IFT using helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft. Any wolf captured will be fitted with a satellite tracking collar to assist the IFT with monitoring and management efforts. The dates for the upcoming aerial count and capture operation are Jan. 21 through Feb. 4, weather permitting. Agency personnel will be limited for this year’s aerial operation and numerous precautions will be implemented to limit the exposure to and possible spread of COVID-19.

Residents of Alpine, Arizona, Reserve and Magdalena, New Mexico, and surrounding areas may notice several daily flights of a low-flying helicopter over their communities during this period as biologists conduct their annual wolf population survey and capture. Survey flights will occur on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, Apache-Sitgreaves, Cibola and Gila National Forests in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico, and possibly on some areas immediately outside the forests.

The IFT is in the process of contacting private landowners for permission to land on their property, if necessary, and is coordinating with land management agencies and county sheriff offices on survey operation details.

Details of the 2020 wolf population census are anticipated to be available in March.

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