Squirrels endangered in Arizona – 07/16/2005

  • October 30, 2013 at 2:12 am #848

    Endangered squirrels’ numbers down



    TUCSON, Ariz. — A wildfire that charred 29,400 acres on Mount Graham
    last year may have contributed to a decline in the population of
    endangered red squirrels, whose numbers are now at their lowest
    levels since 1991.

    The decline isn’t a cause for panic, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
    biologist Thetis Gamberg said, but added, “Everyone’s radar goes up
    when it looks like your numbers are going down.

    The red squirrel population has been estimated at 214, according to a
    spring survey based on visits to the middens where squirrels store
    food. That’s 50 fewer squirrels than last fall’s estimate and less
    than half the peak in the late 1990s, when an insect outbreak began
    to ravage the ancient spruce-fir forest atop Mount Graham.

    Scientists are certain some squirrels died during the fire, which
    also threatened a multimillion-dollar observatory and about 100
    summer homes and cabins last July before rains knocked it down.

    But their concern has centered on how the blaze affected the habitat
    used by the red squirrels, which have been stranded atop southern
    Arizona’s tallest mountain range since the end of the last Ice Age.

    Tim Snow, an Arizona Game and Fish Department biologist who
    coordinated the survey, said that between 13 percent and 24 percent
    of the squirrels’ middens were lost because of the fire.

    He said the recent population decline falls within that range but
    drought and insect activity also may be having an effect.

    “If we continue to have a wet year this year and next, we could see
    another spike in the population,” Snow said. “Certainly we’re hopeful
    it won’t go down much lower than this.”

    The squirrels have been on the endangered list since 1987 and were at
    the center of environmentalists’ failed efforts to block the
    University of Arizona from building three telescopes on Mount Graham,
    75 miles northeast of Tucson.

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