Explorer

Conundrum of lack of BF reports in Gila Wilderness

26 posts in this topic

On 2/3/2017 at 11:38 AM, Waggles said:

You could contact Brenda Harris. She might know if anything is going on down there. Could be local populations don't talk about sightings. Brenda is most active around Farmington. Could be the area is an island...not good tactically? Not enough area for retreat? Too rocky? But if it has bear and elk, that's a good indicator for them.

Well looking at the Arizona map there should be plenty of overlap. Not sure why it would cut out along the border like that. Most likely non-reporting by locals due to cultural norms.

 

Waggles, thanks for the tip.

 

I sent Brenda an email this morning.  

If she replies, then I will share her comments/thoughts on this question.

 

 

15 minutes ago, Waggles said:

Would the wolf areas overlap into Arzona counties with sightings?

 

Yes, Apache county in Arizona overlaps with Catron county in NM and both counties are within the Mexican Wolf Experimental Area.

 

Per the Arizona BFRO map below, Apache county in Arizona has about 10 BF reports.

While Catron county in NM has zero reports.

I did not check where the Apache county reports were located, but Apache county is large and covers a lot of land north to south along the border with NM.

 

The Mogollon Rim in Arizona is well known for BF reports, so I would imagine that from the Mogollon rim in the Apache-Sitgreaves NF any BF could easily travel south and east into the Gila NF.

Yet, no reports from the Gila.

 

BFRO AZ Map.PNG

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I know you mentioned at the start that it has plenty of water, but what are those water sources?

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1 hour ago, VAfooter said:

I know you mentioned at the start that it has plenty of water, but what are those water sources?

 

My usage of the word plenty was meant relative to the region (which is the arid Southwest).  

I meant that it has sufficient water for the habitat that it is sustaining.

Also, every time that I have been there, I have seen water flowing on the different forks of Gila.

 

The Gila NF contains the headwaters of the Gila River that flows into Arizona.

 

The 3 forks of the Gila River (west, east and middle fork) contain water year round, but the smaller creeks within the forest might run empty during drought periods.

 

The area does not get a lot rain (nothing compared to PNW). I spot checked the annual average precipitation for one of the Ranger Stations (Beaverhead RS) within the forest (stats shown below).  It look looks like they only get about 14 inches per year of precipitation.  Further northwest, in Mogollon-NM but within the Gila NF, the precipitation is higher at ~20 inches.

 

Apparently that low precipitation is enough to keep the Gila forks flowing and to sustain bear, deer and elk habitat.

 

But maybe that is too dry for BF? It could be.

 

 

Gila River Drainage Map.PNG

Beaverhead Ranger Stations Rain Statistics.PNG

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Just thinking out loud here, but perhaps the year round water supplies are too open or not near sufficient cover to keep them in the area.

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Population density does not seem to be the deciding factor in this case.  While both Catron and Sierra counties have lower population densities than any of the counties in which Bigfoot sightings are reported, the population density of Grant county is comparable to the at Rio Arriba and Otero counties, which have some of the highest Bigfoot sighting report frequencies in the state.

 

If there are Bigfoot in Grant county, one would expect it to be a hot spot for sighting reports, but it isn't.  It appears that there may in fact be no Bigfoot in this wilderness area.

 

In another thread, we discussed at length the question of Bigfoot and black bear habitat sharing.  After I tweaked my analysis by using timberland as a proxy for black bear habitat in computing black bear population density, I determined that the correlations I find in the data would not be contradictory to a roughly 60% overlap of ranges in my Group A' states which included New Mexico.  That would mean that about 40% of the time the ranges of Bigfoot and black bears do not overlap.

 

The Gila wilderness area might be one case where black bears are present but Bigfoot are not.  I lean towards Explorer's possible reason #5 and recommend looking into this wilderness area further to determine what's missing that Bigfoot require but black bears do not.

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More thinking out loud: is this area used for low level Air Force training flights?

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On 2/5/2017 at 6:09 PM, Mendoza said:

Population density does not seem to be the deciding factor in this case.  While both Catron and Sierra counties have lower population densities than any of the counties in which Bigfoot sightings are reported, the population density of Grant county is comparable to the at Rio Arriba and Otero counties, which have some of the highest Bigfoot sighting report frequencies in the state.

 

If there are Bigfoot in Grant county, one would expect it to be a hot spot for sighting reports, but it isn't.  It appears that there may in fact be no Bigfoot in this wilderness area.

 

In another thread, we discussed at length the question of Bigfoot and black bear habitat sharing.  After I tweaked my analysis by using timberland as a proxy for black bear habitat in computing black bear population density, I determined that the correlations I find in the data would not be contradictory to a roughly 60% overlap of ranges in my Group A' states which included New Mexico.  That would mean that about 40% of the time the ranges of Bigfoot and black bears do not overlap.

 

The Gila wilderness area might be one case where black bears are present but Bigfoot are not.  I lean towards Explorer's possible reason #5 and recommend looking into this wilderness area further to determine what's missing that Bigfoot require but black bears do not.

 

 

Mendoza,

 

The lack of any BF report from this huge Wilderness and Forest does suggest that there might be no BF presence in the Gila Wilderness despite it being good black bear habitat.

 

I also believe that we might learn something by exploring why BF is not present there but is present next door in Arizona (in the Apache NF which is connected to Gila NF) or in the Sacramento range in NM (which is an island range separated by vast desert from the Gila and from other ranges to its north).

 

Maybe BF needs a minimum amount of precipitation and available water (at all elevations) year-round that the Gila NF does not provide.  It would be interesting to do a comparative analysis of the key ecosystem parameters to other ranges believed to have BF presence in NM and AZ.

 

On the precipitation issue, I found heat maps (put together by WRCC using NOAA data) for Arizona and New Mexico showing the annual average precipitation (1961 to 1990 average). When you look at the Gila and compare it to the Sacramento range, you don’t see a lot of difference.  The Mogollon rim in Arizona, on the other hand, does show more precipitation.  But, as I mentioned earlier, the Mogollon range reaches into New Mexico into the Gila NF.  Thus, if BF was roaming the Mogollon, then occasionally is should visit NM and be seen. 

 

Source:

http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/precip.html

 

I was surprised by the low population in Catron (~3,600) Sierra (~11,500) and Grant (~29,300) counties.

So maybe the local ranchers and cowboys are not talking because it is considered weird stuff (it is a conservative community after all).  

 

I believe more tourists visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings and National Forest every year than the sum of the population of those 3 counties.

I recall seeing a video of a ranger complaining that the visitors to Gila Cliff Dwellings went down from ~60,000/year to ~40,000/year. 

But most of these Cliff Dwelling tourists would not be hiking or backpacking deep into the forest.

 

I found a 2002 study that estimated the number of visitors into the Gila National Forest (using samples and statistics) and it estimated wilderness visitors at 115,331 per year (with 65% error rate).  This estimate looks too high.  But maybe there is lots of hunting and fishing going on besides backpacking/hiking (I don’t know).

 

https://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/nvum/reports/year2/R3_F6_gila_report.htm

 

NM Precipitation Map.PNG

AZ Precipitation Map.PNG

Below is some interesting background information on Gila Wilderness Ecology, from the Gila Wilderness: A Hiking Guide by John A. Murray (1992).

"The Gila Wilderness is probably best known and remembered for the vast forest of ponderosa pine; which form its most prominent vegetative type.  The upper elevations (from 9,000 feet to 10,895), for the most part in the Mogollon Mountains, are dominated by dense, closed canopy forests, primarily of Douglas fir and Engelmann’s spruce, with aspen groves, wet meadows, and grass parks scattered through them.   Mid-range altitudes (7,000 feet to 9,000 feet), associated with the mesa tops and their network of streams and canyons, support a more complex and heterogeneous pattern of vegetation: ponderosa pine forests, small aspen groves, oak woodland, grassland, pinon-juniper woodland, some deciduous woodlands (riparian), and some brush.  Lower altitudes (well below 7,000 feet) confined to the river canyons, support a riparian community of moisture-loving deciduous trees, evergreen oaks, bushes, grasses, cacti, flowers, and herbs. 

The single most significant factor in determining the ecology of the Gila Wilderness is precipitation which varies depending on location but rarely exceeds more than 17 water inches of rain per year on average.  Running water is conspicuously absent in the higher ridges, peaks, and saddles of the Gila country, and in some regions, near desert conditions prevail.  Areas over 7,000 feet normally receive sufficient precipitations, as evidence by the presence of trees and plants that cannot cope with the harsher conditions of lower elevations." 

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2 hours ago, VAfooter said:

More thinking out loud: is this area used for low level Air Force training flights?

 

In the book Fire Season, by Philip Connors (a Fire lookout tower ranger who spent 8 summers in the eastern edge of the Gila/Aldo Leopold Wilderness), he writes that occasionally a pilot from Holloman AFB on training will fly low over the Wilderness (and close to his tower) for fun, but that they are not supposed to. 

He writes that the usual procedure is to radio headquarters and issue a complaint to Holloman AFB.  Yet, these incidents appear to happen frequently.

My understanding is that Air Force training flights are not supposed to fly low over designated Wilderness Areas or National Parks.  

BTW, the Sacramento Range, which is right next to Holloman AFB and White Sands Missile Range, still gets BF reports.  Although, I doubt the AF pilots will fly low right next to their neighbors (in Ruidoso and Cloudcroft).

 

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Just wanted to share the feedback from a friend of mine who grew up in that part of the country and is very familiar with the Gila.

He is a wildlife biologist and used to work for National and State parks in Northern CA.  He has seen BF in CA and OR but not in NM.

Below are quotes from his responses to my inquiry on the Gila, just FYI and another POV.

--------------------------------------------------

 

I know of not many reports. At least not online. I think I heard a few when I was a teenager occurring around the Gila cliff dwellings and Lake Roberts campground. The Gila is huge and I know they have had a "let it burn" policy in regards to wildfires for all these years. That place has lots of fires and they let them cover large areas. 

 

There may be several reasons from a biological point of view.

 

1. In winter very few people go there.  This is when the BF might come off the peaks of the mountains.  In winter they can have lots of free range. 

2. In summer it is hot and dry and the BF likely go up into the tops of mountains where most people don't go. I don't know of many people who have hiked and explored it. Just not easy to get to those trailheads.

3. With so many fires, the place to go is where it hasn't burned and not easy to access for people. When you look at those areas on google maps, you will see there is no habitation nearby, just scattered ranches. It is more open country from all the fires cleaning up the land, so hiding is more difficult.

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Great thread and spot Explorer and as per usual, you Guys have nailed some great information already.

My two cents, fires.

We've seen the decreases in reports fire zones in other parts of the country (Eastern WA) and it seems the Gila gets hit pretty bad by skimming what you guys are saying and a quick google check.

Even looking at the reports west of there and in AZ and the three Counties of Gila, Coconino and Yavapai, the majority of those reports (46 in total) are relatively recent with 85% of them coming since the 90's so maybe you're seeing a pattern of movement that moves west.

Maybe the fires drove them west just like they appear to have done up in WA.

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I don't think the lack of reports in this case has anything to do with human factors.  There are many other wilderness areas, equally remote, with similar seasonal variations and hardships, that do have sightings.

 

I suspect that the Gila wilderness genuinely has no Bigfoot.

 

Fire seems to be a plausible ecological explanation.  If the fires there are frequent enough, and devastating enough, they may cause enough of a habitat disruption that Bigfoot could not survive there.

 

However, this suggests that Bigfoot may require a relatively stable habitat compared to many other species, which goes against some of the conventional Bigfoot wisdom I've heard spoken, though in my opinion it agrees better with the data.

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