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In This Issue
- Partner Projects: Endangered Mount Graham red squirrel shows promising rebound
- AZGFD in the News: Game and Fish working to reintroduce parrots once native to Arizona
- Walk on the Wild Side: Upper Verde River Wildlife Area
- Wild Arizona: AZGFD returns Swainson’s hawk to wild
- Upcoming Events: Virtual lecture series
- Video of the Month: Chiricahua Leopard Frog release
Three years after their habitat was nearly wiped out by the 2017 Frye Fire in the Pinaleño Mountains of southeastern Arizona, an annual survey of the endangered Mount Graham red squirrel shows an exciting and notable increase in their population.
The annual survey, conducted jointly by the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD), Coronado National Forest, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Arizona Center for Nature Conservation – Phoenix Zoo, and the University of Arizona, resulted in a minimum estimate of 109 squirrels. This is the first time the population has returned to the triple digits since they were severely impacted by the Frye Fire.
In 2016, there were an estimated 252 squirrels. Immediately following the Frye Fire estimates dropped to a mere 33 individuals. Typical ranges since 2000 fall between 200 and 300 squirrels.
“Mount Graham red squirrels have faced some significant, daunting challenges since their habitat was severely damaged by the Frye Fire,” said Tim Snow, AZGFD terrestrial wildlife specialist. “The data suggests that while the fire was devastating to red squirrel habitat and their overall population, this is truly a resilient species.
“Even though much work still must be done to help conserve and protect this squirrel to ensure its continued recovery, seeing this growth is extremely promising and a signal that our conservation efforts are working.”
This annual red squirrel survey consisted of visiting all known middens, which are areas where red squirrels store or cache their cones. Activity at these middens is used to estimate the population size.
“The squirrels are teaching us about their resiliency and how they respond to altered and even devastated habitat,” said Jeff Humphrey, USFWS Arizona Ecological Services field supervisor. “The survey results are a ray of hope in our partnership efforts to address their post-fire habitat needs.”
The subspecies was listed as endangered in 1987. Mount Graham red squirrels live only in the upper elevation conifer forests of the Pinaleño Mountains and feed primarily on conifer seeds. This subspecies is highly territorial and has lower reproductive rates than red squirrels in other locations.
“The Safford Ranger District is pleased to see an upward trend in numbers for the Mount Graham red squirrel. This is very encouraging as we move forward in working with our partners and community in ensuring the long-term health and resiliency of the squirrel,” said George Garcia, Safford District Ranger for the Coronado National Forest. “We work together to actively manage and restore forest conditions for the benefit of all the species on Mount Graham.”
Long-term impacts to Mount Graham red squirrels and their habitat include high-intensity wildfires and associated insect infestations, possible competition with Abert’s squirrels and poor cone crops caused by drought, all of which influence population size. Biologists continue to explore new methods to conserve and protect the species, including continued squirrel research, developing long-term forest management strategies across the fire-impacted landscape such as re-seeding and planting coniferous trees, and a managed care breeding program.
Kudos to 12News and reporter Rich Prange for a recent article about joint efforts between wildlife researchers in Arizona and northern Mexico to reintroduce thick-billed parrots in the southern part of the state.
The 1,100-plus acres of the Upper Verde River Wildlife Area are home to abundant wildlife, including a lush riparian corridor that provides a key migration passage for several migratory bird species.
Located in Yavapai County, about eight miles northeast of Chino Valley, the wildlife area is part of the National Audubon Society’s “Important Bird Area” program. A three-mile stretch of the river that runs through the wildlife area is also designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as critical habitat for an endangered native fish, the Little Colorado spinedace.
The wildlife area includes riparian sites, floodplains, cliffs and adjacent uplands. Some of the cliffs rise as much as 100 to 300 feet along portions of the river. A few of the species of birds that have been documented here include the bald eagle, belted kingfisher, peregrine falcon, yellow-billed cuckoo and golden eagle. The wildlife area also attracts mule deer, javelina, an occasional mountain lion, elk or bear, as well as common predators and furbearers.
Directions: From Highway 89 in Paulden, take Verde Ranch Road east about one mile. Make a sharp right, cross the railroad tracks and make a sharp left. After crossing the railroad tracks, take the first dirt road to the right. Stay on this road for about three miles to reach Verde River Canyon. Vehicle access is prohibited; the property is managed for walk-in access only.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) recently partnered with Liberty Wildlife to successfully release a rehabilitated Swainson’s hawk back into the wild.
AZGFD wildlife manager Nick Thompson responded to a call May 27 that indicated there was an injured hawk at the Mohave County Landfill in Golden Valley. Thompson safely rescued and transported the hawk, which had suffered a shoulder injury, to Liberty Wildlife in Phoenix.
The hawk likely had spent a few days on the ground, unable to fly, leaving it malnourished and dehydrated. Liberty Wildlife workers were able to treat and rehabilitate the female raptor, which made a complete recovery.
“To see that bird again when she took off and was so strong on that flight to leave; it’s a special moment and feeling to know that I helped save that bird,” Thompson said.
AZGFD biologists were able to place an identification band on the bird and attach a lightweight transmitter to track the bird’s progress, movement patterns and post-release survival as part of a larger project evaluating raptor migration through Arizona.
“Normally, this Swainson’s hawk would have been returned to the area of rescue; however, since the hawk’s migratory pattern to South America had already begun, releasing the hawk from the Phoenix area saved her some flight time as she headed south for the winter months,” said Kenneth “Tuk” Jacobson, raptor management coordinator.
As of three weeks ago, the transmitter had indicated the hawk had traveled more than 1,800 miles. It was last tracked in Guatemala on Oct. 21.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department’s popular Watchable Wildlife Program has gone virtual. Game and Fish has partnered with the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center and Boyce Thompson Arboretum to host virtual wildlife lectures. Program manager Jeff Meyers, along with program coordinator Cheyenne Dubiach, will be sharing their knowledge about fascinating wildlife species that call Arizona home.
Wildcats of Arizona — 6:30 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center.
Arizona is home to four different species of wildcats, including the third-largest felid in the world. Wildcats of all species are capable of taking prey much larger than themselves and seemingly impossible feats of athleticism. Feared, vilified, and worshiped, wildcats have had a varied relationship with humans from the beginning of time. From jaguars to bobcats, learn about these misunderstood predators, as well as their current ecology and biology. Register here
Javelina — 11 a.m. Nov. 21 at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.
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 here
High Cost of Fragmentation — 6:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center.
Learn about the high cost of habitat fragmentation and how it affects wildlife, ecosystems and humanity. A portion of the lecture will explore some case studies conducted in Arizona and discussion will include possible solutions to one of the most significant threats to wildlife and humanity in modern times. Register here
Desert Squirrels and Chipmunks — 11 a.m. Dec. 19 at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.
Take an in-depth look at these fascinating rodents known for their charismatic acrobatics and adorable antics. Learn about the natural history, modern distribution and special adaptation of these small mammal desert dwellers. Register here
For the past 25 years, the Phoenix Zoo, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have partnered to conserve the threatened Chiricahua leopard frog. Check out how these wildlife agencies work together to raise these fascinating amphibians from eggs to adult frogs, ready for release into the wild.