Mount Graham Red Squirrel Population Remains Stable
December 15, 2014
As part of a conservation program for the endangered Mount Graham Red Squirrel, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted an annual squirrel survey and estimated approximately 274 animals in the Pinaleño Mountains in southeastern Arizona.
This year's survey shows an increase of two squirrels over the 2013 estimate of 272 squirrels.
"After seeing considerable population growth in 2013, the recovery team is encouraged to see those gains have remained and the population is stable," says Tim Snow, nongame specialist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. "The team speculates that better cone crops are contributing to the stable squirrel population numbers."
The Red Squirrel survey is conducted each fall by visiting a random sample of known middens (areas where red squirrels store or cache their cones).
Mount Graham red squirrels live only in the upper elevation conifer forests of the Pinaleño Mountains and feed primarily on conifer seeds. Females produce two to seven young per year. The species was declared endangered in 1987.
The Mount Graham Red Squirrel population peaked at about 550 animals in the late 1990s, but typically ranges between 200 and 300 individuals. Habitat losses caused by fire and insect infestations and poor cone crops caused by drought are considered primary factors influencing population size.
Biologists continue to explore new ways to conserve the species, including habitat improvements, squirrel research and a pilot captive breeding program.
Conservation of the species is guided by the Mount Graham Red Squirrel Recovery Team, a partnership that includes the Coronado National Forest, Game And Fish, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Arizona, Native American tribes and others.