"ALPINE – On a frigid morning in late January, biologists set out in a
helicopter to begin the annual Mexican wolf population count with hopes of
finding at least one more wolf than last year.
Their painstaking work helps identify the number of wolves in Arizona and New
Mexico and is vital to the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program that began 25 years
ago when the animals were nearly extinct.
Since 1998, when 11 Mexican wolves raised in captivity were released in eastern
Arizona, the population has increased to 196, with 84 found in Arizona and 112
in New Mexico. Wildlife officials hope to identify more during this year’s
count. Those numbers are expected to be released in March.
“These guys are flying around with no doors on the helicopters so that they can
capture a wolf to put a collar on it,” said Jim Devos, who has been with
Arizona Game and Fish for 45 years and has been the Mexican wolf coordinator
since the program began. He is one of many state and federal wildlife
biologists who have dedicated their careers to the management of the species.
The Mexican Wolf Recovery Program began in 1998 to save the population from
near extinction. Numbers show the effort is gaining momentum: In the last six
years, the population has doubled, from 98 in 2015 to 196 in last year’s count.
The increase gives wildlife officials hope that the program will reach its goal
of 320 wolves sustained for eight years in the Mexican Wolf Experimental
Population Area, a huge area that encompasses southern Arizona and New Mexico.
Once the number of Mexican wolves reaches the population goal, the animal will
be removed from the endangered species list and listed as a threatened species
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