/ Modified dec 1, 2016 12:23 p.m.

Mount Graham Endangered Red Squirrel Population Declines Slightly

Arizona Game and Fish says yearly fluctuation not uncommon.

Mt. Graham squirrel Mount Graham red squirrel (PHOTO: George Andrejko, AZ Game and Fish Dept.)

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Southern Arizona’s Mount Graham endangered red squirrel population has decreased slightly, an annual survey revealed.

The number of squirrels in the Pinaleño Mountains near Safford dropped by 11 in the past year. This year’s estimated squirrel population is 252 animals.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department, Coronado National Forest, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of Arizona conduct the annual autumn survey. Wildlife specialists visit a random sample of known middens, areas where the red squirrels store their pinecones.

The Game and Fish Department said it’s not unusual for the population numbers to vary from year to year.

Mount Graham red squirrels live only in the upper-elevation conifer forests of the Pinaleños and feed primarily on conifer seeds. Females produce two to seven offspring a year.

The species was declared endangered nearly 30 years ago. The red squirrel population peaked at about 550 animals in the late 1990s, and now ranges between 200 and 300 animals.

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