Friday, June 10, 2011

Watching the wolves: Local ties to the AZ wildfires

6:55 PM, Jun 9, 2011  | 

By Kasey Joyce
Eureka, MO (KSDK) - Wildfires are scorching hundreds of thousands of acres in Arizona. While firefighters are doing everything they can to stop the fires, the staff at the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka is worried about what might be in the fire's path.

There are only about 50 Mexican Gray Wolves left in the wild; most have ties to the Endangered Wolf Center. About half of them are now in danger.

""I've been fighting fires for 34 years," said Wallow Fire PIO Jim Wilkins. "I've never seen anything like the wallow fire."

And somewhere, in the middle of that inferno are some of the rarest wolves in the world.

"There are two packs that are directly in the fire area," said Regina Mossotti of the Endangered Wolf Center.

Mossotti and the staff at the center helped raise and take care of many of the wolves in those packs. Right now, they're tracking their locations from afar.

"The US Fish and Wildlife is monitoring them, but right now it's too intense, so we can't do a lot," Mossotti said.

Mossotti says the wolves will burrow underground to den with their pups and wait out the fire.

"The biggest concern is the pups," Mossotti said. "We hope their dens are deep enough and the fire moves fast enough that they're protected."

Right now, the fire is still far from contained.

"It's like a monster that's eating ground," Wilkins said. "Today is another pivotal day that actually that we are actually semi optimistic is some areas that we're going to make good progress."

The staff at the Endangered Wolf Center had hoped to release another pack into the wild in northern Arizona this summer. Now those plans are on hold.

"The fire has been so intense in that area, they're actually going to hold off for several months," Mossotti said. "We will let the area recover and see how the pack's doing at that point, we will try to release them later."

So now, it's just a waiting game back in Eureka.

One pack at the center just had six new puppies.  You can track their progress at Endangered Wolf Center online.