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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working to strengthen the population of Mexican Gray Wolves in Arizona

    Darien Bakas
    Sarah Rinkevich stands in the ENR2 building on Wednesday, Feb 10. Rinkevich was a key player in the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf to Northern Arizona.

    Since their initial release into Greenlee County in Northern Arizona, Mexican gray wolves are expanding both their habitat ranges and their population numbers, thanks to the Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project.

    Eleven wolves were released into the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in 1998, which expands into parts of both the Gila and Apache national forests. Now, the latest population estimate of wolves is around 110.

    A new environmental impact statement, which was just completed, will allow the wolves to expand their habitat across Arizona and out of the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area.

    “With that expansion, our field-monitoring efforts will also expand and likely evolve from intensively monitoring and managing a small population to more oversight and management of a larger population,” said John Bradley, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. “Luckily technology is on our side … As the population increases, it normally would get more difficult to monitor on a daily basis. However, GPS and other technologies are making it easier to understand movements, pack dynamics and behavior with less on-the-ground effort from field staff.”

    Historically, Mexican gray wolves lived in Southern Arizona, so there is a chance that wolves could begin to repopulate around areas near Tucson. If we do see reintroduction of wolves in the greater Tucson area, however, they would likely have migrated from

    Mexico. The border fence between the U.S. and Mexico is not contiguous in the mountains, therefore there is an opportunity for the wolves to migrate to and from Mexico.

    “We expect that as the population increases, wolves will expand into and occupy areas that contain suitable habitat,” Bradley said. “Whether habitat is or is not available surrounding the Tucson area will be the primary driver.”

    The reintroduction of the wolves has also allowed unique

    partnerships with American Indian tribes throughout Arizona.

    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species biologist Sarah Rinkevich first began working on bridging the gap between Native American tribes and the Fish and Wildlife Service as apart of her Ph.D. project at UA.

    The White Mountain Apache Indian Tribe was interested in determining how many wolves there were on their reservation.

    “I thought this would be a great Ph.D. project, a population estimate, which is what I am very interested in,” Rinkevich said. “It took me two years to get tribal council approval.”

    Rinkevich also conducted interviews with tribal members to get their side of the story about the feelings of the tribe toward the wolves alongside the population estimate she was working on.

    “I interviewed 32 tribal members who knew about the wolf, and they gave me the rest of the story,” Rinkevich said. “The wolf is very culturally important. Every species on the landscape is important culturally. There were songs about the wolf, and some people had what was called ‘wolf medicine.’”

    Rinkevich was able to gather information about the traditional ecological science of Arizona that cannot be found in a traditional textbook.

    “What I got out of those interviews [come from] when I sat down some of the tribal members [and they] first asked me which wolf I wanted to talk about,” Rinkevich said. “They were like, ‘Do you want to talk about that wolf from Mexico or do you want to talk about the old wolf?’ and I am like ‘Tell me about the old wolf.’ What they are documenting is that there was probably at least two subspecies of wolves pre-contact.”

    With partnerships thriving and populations increasing, the Mexican gray wolf has a bright future. For now though, the only place to see a Mexican gray wolf in Tucson is at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

    Follow Natalie Robbins on Twitter.

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