As part of a conservation program for the endangered Mount Graham red squirrel, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and University of Arizona conducted an annual squirrel survey and estimated approximately 263 animals in the Pinaleño Mountains of southeastern Arizona.

This year’s survey shows a decrease of 11 squirrels from the 2014 estimate of 274 squirrels.

“Squirrel populations can fluctuate considerably from year to year, and we aren’t immediately concerned with the lower squirrel numbers. Given the lack of cached cones we found during monitoring, we expected the population number to be lower than it was,” said Tim Snow, nongame specialist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

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, insect infestations and poor cone crops caused by drought are considered primary factors influencing population size.

Biologists continue to explore additional methods for conserving the species, including habitat restoration efforts, 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, Phoenix Zoo, Native American tribes and others.

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