Wild+Life is a monthly e-newsletter with news about wildlife-watching activities, wildlife natural history, habitat and research projects benefiting wildlife, fun facts and upcoming events. Sign up to get Wild+Life delivered to your inbox every month.
In This Issue
- Partner Projects: Six Mexican cross-fosters hit major milestone
- Wild Arizona: Federal decision a big win for chub in Lower Colorado River basin
- Wild Arizona: Field guide essential for amphibian, reptile enthusiasts
- Walk on the Wild Side: Allen Severson Memorial Wildlife Area
- Upcoming Events: Virtual speaker wildlife series
- Video of the Month: Meet Stubby, the Gila monster
The Mexican Wolf Recovery Program reached a major milestone April 1 when six cross-fostered Mexican wolves matured to breeding age in the wild. In doing so, the six wolves are now able to be counted as contributing to the genetic recovery of the subspecies.
This achievement brings the total number of cross-fosters surviving in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico to 13 and highlights the continuing success of Mexican wolf recovery efforts by the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and other conservation partners.
Cross-fostering is an innovative technique used by the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team to increase genetic diversity in Mexican wolf populations in the wild. Wolf pups are born in captivity at one of a number of different accredited breeding facilities across the country. When the pups are 14 days old or younger, they are placed into a den of wild Mexican wolves with pups of the same age. The surrogate wild wolf parents raise the new genetically diverse pups as if they were a part of the original litter.
An updated population viability analysis conducted for the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, First Revision (2017 recovery plan) called for at least nine released captive-born wolves being recruited into the wild population by 2022 to meet genetic diversity goals.
“We trounced that number,” said Jim deVos, AZGFD’s Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator. “The importance of this milestone cannot be overstated, as conserving genetic diversity is one of the major challenges to recovery and delisting of this subspecies.”
Mexican wolves were once widespread throughout the American Southwest. Towards the turn of the century, however, they were the subject of an eradication campaign because of conflicts with human interests at the time. By the mid-1900s, Mexican wolves had been effectively eliminated from the United States, and populations in Mexico were severely reduced. Following the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, Mexican wolves were listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an endangered species in 1976, thereby prompting recovery efforts to save the species from extinction.
Releasing captive-raised Mexican wolves into the wild has been part of the Mexican wolf recovery program since 1998. While the number of wolves in captive breeding facilities around the United States and Mexico today is a little under 400, they all originated from seven founders captured from the wild when the species was close to extinction in the 1970s. When individuals in a wildlife population are closely related, genetic management has to be part of recovery and can lead to substantial challenges to their propagation. Mexican wolves are no exception.
“It is a major milestone that cross-fostering efforts have resulted in this number of genetically valuable Mexican wolves being recruited into the wild population to help both the genetic recovery criteria and the number of wolves in the wild to meet recovery goals,” said Clay Crowder, AZGFD’s Assistant Director, Wildlife Management Division.
“The Mexican wolf is a subspecies that was nearly lost to the wild, but with careful management as demonstrated by this benchmark, recovery and return to state management is a foreseeable goal. While the Endangered Species Act prescribes the need for recovery, the successful progress on the ground is proof of effective state, federal, and tribal management.”
Another high point occurred when a cross-fostered female Mexican wolf (F1866) in the Elk Horn pack was documented as pregnant. AZGFD Veterinarian Dr. Anne Justice-Allen used ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy and determine that the female wolf is likely due to whelp (give birth) in late April. To date, at least four cross-fostered wolves have bred successfully in the wild, producing a total of seven genetically valuable litters. Once F1866, who came from the Endangered Wolf Center in Missouri, whelps her pups, the total number of successful cross-foster parented litters will rise to eight.
“When we started the cross-fostering program seven years ago, we only hoped it would be successful,” said Maggie Dwire, Deputy Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “These milestones are proof that cross-fostering is a valid and viable tool that is contributing to the recovery of the species. We are grateful to all the captive facilities, partners, and field staff who work tirelessly year after year to make cross-fostering a success.”
Cross-fostering is a coordinated effort of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, AZGFD, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Bureau of Land Management, New Mexico State Lands Office, U.S. Forest Service, and the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan.
Cross-foster efforts for 2022 are planned to begin later this month in Arizona and New Mexico.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) applauds the April 5 determination by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that the Lower Colorado River basin distinct population segment (DPS) of roundtail chub is not at risk of extinction in the foreseeable future and does not warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
As part of this action, USFWS also determined that the Gila chub, currently listed as endangered under the ESA, should be considered for delisting, based on a 2017 finding that ruled the roundtail, headwater and Gila chub are all a single species. That finding was informed in part by a scientific study authored by AZGFD.
“These decisions are a big win for chub and for those who manage in the Lower Colorado River basin,” said AZGFD Aquatic Wildlife Chief Julie Carter. “They will allow more flexibility and opportunities to protect and conserve chub through active management in Arizona.”
In determining the status of the Lower Colorado River roundtail chub, USFWS determined that the primary threats to it are non-native species and alterations to natural stream flows, which have reduced the distribution and abundance of the chub in the past and continue to affect populations today. These threats may also be exacerbated by climate change in the future. However, these threats do not pose a risk of extinction for the species, in part due to long-term conservation and land management efforts by stakeholders.
Recognized as a potentially sensitive species, many federal, state and county agencies and Tribal nations have initiated best management practices and conservation commitments for the species and its habitat. These conservation efforts have stabilized roundtail chub populations. Currently, biologists estimate that roundtail chub populations are distributed across 34% of its historical range in the Lower Colorado River Basin, and most of the existing populations are considered stable or increasing according to monitoring data, despite the co-occurrence of non-native species across much of the range.
The AZGFD, USFWS, and other partners will continue to remain engaged in the conservation status of the roundtail chub and the ecosystem it depends on. Established in 2004, the Range-wide Conservation Agreement was developed with seven state fish and wildlife agencies, federal land management agencies (including the USFWS), and Tribes working together to implement conservation actions for the roundtail chub, bluehead sucker and flannelmouth sucker. The Arizona Statewide Conservation Plan was established in 2007 with multiple state and federal agencies to implement conservation actions for five native fish species, including the roundtail chub. The AZGFD is committed to ensuring the long-term viability of roundtail chub populations in Arizona.
The roundtail chub is a member of the minnow family and is endemic to the Colorado River watershed with populations in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. Adults can vary in size from 4 to 20 inches in length, and their lifespan can exceed 10 years. They are omnivorous, feeding on algae, aquatic and terrestrial insects, and fish.
The finding was published in the Federal Register on April 5, 2022 under Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2022-0001. The USFWS remains interested in information regarding the status and conservation of, and any potential threat to, the roundtail chub and the Gila chub. Please submit information by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
A Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles in Arizona, Second Edition, is the must-have resource for identifying and learning about the state’s herpetofauna.
This visually stunning and reader-friendly book features photographs, illustrations and natural history, making it easy to identify the 155 species of salamanders, toads, frogs, turtles, lizards and snakes found in Arizona. Buy the book at any Arizona Game and Fish Department office or complete the order form at azgfd.gov/publications
Arizona is a herping hotspot because of its varied topography and climate — you can go from desert to alpine in a 20-mile ascent up a mountain, equivalent ecologically to driving from Mexico to Canada.
Arizona has all four North American deserts (Mojave, Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Great Basin), which offer their own suite of herp species. We have subtropical amphibian and reptile species influence from Mexico in southeastern Arizona, as species found nowhere else in the state can be found in just a few places in the southeast corner.
Many Arizona species have evolved adaptations to avoiding the heat and dry nature of the desert environment by living underground, digging burrows, emerging only after rains or having a nocturnal lifestyle. All of these characteristics make herping challenging, but for herp enthusiasts, the challenge is part of the fun!
Herping can take place as you hike — go to your favorite hiking trail in the morning or late afternoon, or just after a monsoon. While herps are most active from July through August statewide, they can be found on any warm day and are most active March through October in the desert.
A few tips:
Walk slowly and quietly. Herpetofauna are wary and view you as a potential predator, so they often see you before you see them.
Be observant. In addition to movement, look for patterns, colors and shapes that are different from their surroundings. Lizards are often hiding in plain sight (relying on being still or their camouflage), while snakes can be seen moving across a trail or tucked partially under vegetation along the trail’s edge. As you walk, switch between watching the ground for herps at your feet and scanning the trail or trees in front of you for lizards that may be in the distance on the trail or nearby tree trunks. With practice, you will gain a search image of what you are looking for.
Listen for movement. Snakes and lizards can be heard moving through the brush or scurrying over rocks before you see them. Herps can be found all over Arizona, including urban mountain preserves. Riparian areas and washes are some of the best spots because the water provides refuge, habitat and movement corridors to a diversity of plant and animal species. Part of the fun of herping is capturing and sharing photos. A macro lens on a digital camera can help you take photos without getting too close while capturing the animal’s natural behavior.
Keep a journal. Observations are important, so you can study behavioral and seasonal patterns of the species.
Join online herp communities. This can be done through iNaturalist and HerpMapper. Both sites/applications allow you to submit photos and location data that may be used by wildlife managers for conservation and management decisions.
Join a local organization. The Tucson Herpetological Society or Phoenix Herpetological Society are good places to start.
— Audrey Owens, ranid frogs project coordinator
A group of Game and Fish employees from the department’s regional office in Pinetop recently gathered at the Allen Severson Memorial Wildlife Area to pay tribute to fallen wildlife manager, Allen Severson.
Severson had served with the department for more than 11 years. He was killed in a helicopter accident Feb. 7, 1980, while conducting a wildlife survey with wildlife manager Steve Thompson between Alpine and Nutrioso, Ariz. Thompson was severely injured, but he and the pilot survived the accident.
The department dedicated the Allen Severson Memorial Wildlife Area at Pintail Lake on Sept. 18, 1982. Pintail Lake was developed in 1979 as the first waterfowl marsh utilizing treated wastewater in Arizona. The wildlife area’s 250 acres consist of three ponds and 14 nesting islands. Severson was instrumental in helping to develop the wetlands.
“Allen was a wonderful wildlife manager, and he was very well liked and respected for his dedication to wildlife,” said Ken Clay Jr., wildlife manager.
The wildlife area attracts many species of waterfowl, with several hundred utilizing the area during the spring migration. A few birds commonly seen or heard in the spring and summer include the Virginia rail, Sora, yellow-winged blackbirds and American coots. Peregrine falcons often are observed in the spring in pursuit of ducks. Common mammals in the area include elk, mule deer and pronghorn.
The wildlife area is located about 4.5 miles north of Show Low, in Navajo County.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) has partnered with the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center (SWCC) to host virtual wildlife lectures. In addition to partnering with SWCC, the department’s Wildlife Viewing Program will conduct its own critter-based lectures twice each month.
- Javelinas — 6:30-8 p.m., May 12 (AZGFD). Description: Who are you calling a pig? Javelina, also known as collared peccaries, are actually not pigs, even though they have that undeserved reputation. Learn about the history, behavior and adaptations of these highly sociable, widely distributed, and often-seen animals that roam Arizona. Register
- Desert Tortoises — 6:30-8 p.m. June 9 (AZGFD). Description: With its elephantine (columnar) legs and domed shells, the desert tortoise is difficult to mistake for any other species that lives in our harsh climate. Learn about the unique anatomy, life habits and behaviors of these captivating desert-dwellers. Register
And don’t miss these in-person events:
- Bat-Netting — 7-10 p.m., May 27 and June 3 (AZGFD). Description: Bats get a bad rap, but AZGFD biologists aim to change that by highlighting the good they do — such as eating pesky mosquitoes and flies — during a series of bat-netting and bat-monitoring workshops May 27 and June 3 at Needle Rock Recreation Area, northeast of Scottsdale. Attendees will help identify bats captured and collect important data before the animals are released unharmed. Each event costs $25 per person, with proceeds going to help the department provide other wildlife-viewing events statewide. Space for each event is limited. Register
Check out this video, starring Stubby, a Gila monster that cannot be returned to the wild and now serves as an “ambassador” animal at the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Wildlife Center.
By the way, did you know the Gila monster is the largest lizard in the U.S.?