Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

More mountain lion killings on Kofa NWR

I’ve written about Mountain Lions and Kofa NWR in the past – the Arizona Game and Fish Department (which could be renamed to “Arizona Hunting Revenue Department”) periodically kills mountain lions on the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. This is not limited only to Kofa, but I’ve ended up posting specifically about the situation at Kofa several times, and Ron, a former employee from there, keeps me updated with the latest happenings.

There are a lot of prejudices against predators as a general rule, and much of it is due to a lack of understanding of basic biology principles. (To put it simply: kill off all the predators, and you interfere with the checks and balances of entire populations, and this leads to extreme overpopulation by one species, and ultimately the deterioration of individual and group health.) This annoys me to no end, perhaps because Biology was my major for my first degree, and I think I’m justified in expecting that the people managing wildlife refuges would be at least as educated as I am on the topic. Likely they are, and simply rely on general ignorance of the topic to push their agendas with little outrage from the general population. Mostly it is only hunters, to whom they pander, who pay close attention to the decisions being made at the refuges in any case.

There are, however, many hunters who are just as outraged as animal rights activists over the killing of mountain lions, which should tell all of us something.

Underlying the decision making by the refuge managers is the essential view of the AGFD and USGFD towards these wildlife refuges; from their decisions and actions I can only infer that to them, refuges are primarily places to hunt. The refuge management wants to maintain the prey species population so that there is a large enough population of the prey species to justify the “need” for hunting, and thus make the hunters happy. You get one guess as to where a large amount of the refuges’ money comes from. A more accurate name, instead of wildlife refuge, would be hunter refuges.

In addition to ignoring basic population biology principles to justify killing mountain lions and propping up hunting revenues, the AGFD is using radio collars on the mountain lions to track them down to kill them, in what amounts to a canned hunt. Why are they wearing radio collars to begin with? As part of a costly research project which is obviously being made absolutely worthless by the fact that the subjects are killed. That’s our tax money wasted, and while it is a drop in the bucket compared to what has been spent on one day of the Iraq War II, it is still a significant amount of money. At least $142,000 is an amount I would consider significant.

The criteria, by the way, for killing the mountain lions, is if they are known to have killed more than 2 bighorn sheep in a six month period. (Though whether there is any attempt at confirming that the death of a sheep is actually caused by a mountain lion, who would kill by jumping at them from behind and biting through their skulls, making it hard to mistake, is something that the AGFD is not willing to let us know.) At that point, as soon as they wander off refuge land, they’re killed.

Think about that one.

I’m just not sure how we have communicated to them the slimming regime we’ve put them on that we’re making a life or death issue of, let alone communicated the boundaries of the refuge, their relative safe zone.

Of course if they ate only once every 3 months, I’m not sure they’d be surviving in any case. Not that Bighorn Sheep are the only species that a lion will prey on, but since Kofa has helpfully built “big game guzzlers” (artificial ponds) for the sheep, they’ve also built in easy access to a big meal for the lions. And large game is indeed their main meal.

So, the latest Mountain Lion was killed recently. Ron, the former employee of Kofa who keeps me updated on these things, wrote to the AGFD and requested very specific information, such as the exact GPS location of the Bighorn Sheep that was (presumably) killed by the Mountain Lion, and other information that we are all free to request as part of the Arizona Open Records Act.

Here is one of his recent comments about the Mountain Lion who was tracked via radio collar and killed:

What bothers me most Deb, is this old tom had lived many years free and wild living an existence evolution allowed him. Then, with a split second pull of a trigger, his wondrous life was over just for fulfilling his ecological niche. I have lived in the same harsh climate as this old tom did, and for over 31 years I have spent many days and nights afield and I love my life and freedom.

The AGFD took freedom away for that tom and I got a knot in the pit of my stomach when I heard this news. I tried for over 5 weeks to get information from the AGFD that might have saved this lion’s life, but the Department staff just ignored me and there was simply nothing I could do to help the tom. I was powerless for the first time in my life and I have a kind of emptiness I have also never experienced in my life before. I will do everything ethically and legally I can to ensure that the Department does not kill another Kofa lion.

One thing that seems clear to me – this isn’t merely the killing of a tom, or the second killing of a tom on Kofa. This is one more killing in what amounts to an extermination program. This program began as soon as it was confirmed that there were 5 resident mountain lions living on Kofa. So far they have killed two of the five for certain. The collar “fell off” a third, which could be any number of things. The first thing that comes to my mind is a cover up of an “unsanctioned” kill. There is one known Lion queen still living on Kofa land. Maybe one more tom.

Kofa is 665,400 acres. You’d think it would be more than enough for a few mountain lions, but that is only true if humans don’t feel that their “entertainment” via hunting is impeded.

And the truth is that Kofa, like almost everywhere in this country, has been in drought conditions for several years. Here’s a shocking biological fact – populations of almost every species (though certainly not humans) decrease when drought limits the amount of food that is available. Who would have thought!

Well, the Kofa Refuge managers are apparently unaware of this. They seem to expect the Bighorn Sheep populations to remain at earlier levels, irregardless of drought conditions. This is likely a myth they maintain to keep hunting permit revenue flowing in, as well as to give them an excuse to eliminate the only known competition (that can actually be fought with a gun) for the Bighorn Sheep.

The refuge managers have also illegally installed additional man-made water sources (which they tellingly call “Big Game Guzzlers”) on protected Kofa land. Hunters often hang out near these water sources to get easy kills.

Daniel Patterson, an Arizona local, has posted more on this topic, including linking to a legal brief filed by PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility), and some quotes by Ron. Another post of Daniels’ add some insight to the priorities of the refuge managers and the groups that support them.

Okay, so what can we do about this? I haven’t come up with anything especially creative, but here is my current list of ideas:

  • comment (with knowledge and politeness) on this article: http://www.yumasun.com/news/killing_40802___article.html/officials_lion.html
  • write to the Kofa and AGFD officials, in protest against the illegal big game guzzlers, the killing of the mountain lions, the hunting permits for bighorn sheep that continue to be granted to hunters, and finally against the collaring of any other Mountain Lions, since it has proven to be a death sentence for them.
  • write to whatever national or local animal group you support, and urge them to take action
  • write to any reporters for your local paper who you know have an interest in animal, environmental, and/or wildlife issues, and ask them to cover it. Reporters with an interest in misdeeds by government officials might also be interested in covering this issue. (any attention, regardless of motivation, at this point…)
  • write a snail mail or make a phone call (emails are considered worthless to them) to any politician you know is sympathetic to environmental and animal concerns
  • Edited to add: Contact your favorite podcast hosts and ask them if they’d cover the issue!
  • encourage anyone who would be willing to take action on this to do one or more of the above

The people at Kofa and AGFD to send emails to are as follows:

RDTuggle at fws dot gov (Region 2 Director Benjamin Tuggle, Ph.D.)
Chris_Pease at fws dot gov (Chief NWRS Region 2)
Thomas_Harvey at fws dot gov (Region 2 Refuge Supervisor AZ/NM)
directorsoffice at azgfd dot gov
mitch_ellis at fws dot gov (SW Arizona NWR Complex Manager)
BHernbrode1 at azgfd dot gov AGFD Commissioner
JMartin at azgfd dot gov
lvoyles at azgfd dot gov Larry Voyles, Director AGFD (they promoted the guy who is anti-predator and anti-wilderness and who lied about the secret McPhererson Tank project.)
sferrell at azgfd dot gov Steve Ferrell Assistant Director AGFD
mgolightly at azgfd dot gov Mike Golightly AGFD Commissioner
rwoodhouse at azgfd dot gov Robbie Woodhouse AGFD Commissioner
donna_shoemaker@fws.gov; Tuggle’s secretary

The consequences for our inaction are clear. This is the tom that was killed this past fall.

killed mountain lion at kofa sept 07

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13 responses to “More mountain lion killings on Kofa NWR

  1. Daniel Patterson April 4, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    Great post. Big thanks. Daniel Patterson, Tucson AZ

  2. Mary Martin April 5, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Thanks so much. I could never have done the job you did on this one. And thanks again for your blogging. It’s important. Really.

  3. Ron Kearns April 5, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Deb,

    I echo Mr. Patterson and Dr. Martin’s commendations of your very well written post. They, like you, are accomplished writers/communicators. I thank you and them for assisting me in conveying to the public the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s past and present Kofa NWR cougar extirpation/extermination plan.

  4. Lenn April 5, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    This makes me want to throw up.

    I recently had a thought about a general solution to many animal & environmental destructions. If private individuals or groups who cared about animals / the natural environment would buy up as much rural land as possible, we could, on that land we own, not allow chemical spraying of any kind, hunting, raising animals for food / exploitation (ranching, breeding, etc.), development, etc. In fact, the more I think about it, it seems like it could be one of the most effective things we could do with our money. If there is no land to use, the destruction can’t be perpetrated.

    I suspect many people, when they hear that “wildlife refuges” are owned by the government, they think these large areas are lovingly protected. That is incorrect on so many levels.

    Thank you for the informative post!

  5. Ron Kearns April 6, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Lenn,

    When I first arrived on Kofa NWR in the early 1970s, the first surprise I had was that people could hunt on this desert National Wildlife Refuge. After all, by definition, a refuge, refugium, is an “area in which prey may escape from or avoid a predator”. The unnatural predator, in this case, is man. I am in a definite minority on this forum since I am a hunting advocate. However, I want the opportunity to hunt based on sound, ethical wildlife science/management principles and that is not occurring on Kofa NWR.

    During my 25+ year career at Kofa, 18+ years as a ‘game warden’, the single most asked question or statement from the public at large was that they were surprised that hunters were allowed on Kofa refuge. There is a place for limited, regulated, ethical, science-based hunting on refuges throughout the United States. However, the inconsistency of allowing humans’ hunting of desert bighorn rams, in the current decline, and then killing natural predators, such as cougars, for hunting rams as their niche in life, is unconscionable mismanagement of Kofa’s diverse biodiversity.

    Thank you for your post. I am not sure if your land purchase scenario would work, but given the decline in the environment on state and federal lands, whose managers often allow destructive, uncontrolled multiple use, it seems clear to me that individuals are capable of greater protective land stewardship than the government often is, in many instances.

    Ron Kearns

  6. Deb April 7, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    Thanks everyone for the comments.

    Dan – thanks for your blog post, I found it very helpful!

    ——-

    Lenn – I agree, I’ve often thought that buying land is the only way to protect it. I remember an argument I had with a classmate in college years and years ago, and him thinking that all national land should be opened up to exploitation of any and every kind that would allow (a very select few) people to make money off it. And I’m pretty sure that the current administration agrees with him. Not that destruction of the environment is a partisan agenda, by any means!

    ———

    Ron – I, for one, appreciate your perspective as well as your years of experience and the knowledge gained from your work at Kofa. We don’t have to agree on every point to be able to work together. 🙂

    ——–

    “Dr Mike” – you might be wondering why your comment wasn’t released by me to appear here. It is simple – I have no problem with people who disagree with me, however I do have a problem with people who refuse to have a discussion without resorting to personal insults. Since your comment had more insults than content, I have chosen not to post it.

    I will however reply to your assertion that predator-prey population graphs only apply to fast growing prey populations such as rabbits. The classic example taught in a population biology class (at least in the one I took) is of wolves and moose, so it would seem that your assertion is not based on the realities of population biology academic research.

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  8. Ron Kearns April 9, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Deb,

    Thanks to your post and those of Dr. Martin and Mr. Patterson, I have received a good response. I was also offered the possibility to do a radio program regarding the Kofa NWR collared lion depredation orders issued and carried out by the AGFD under full sanctions of the USFWS.

    Ron

  9. Ron Kearns April 19, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Deb,

    I am posting this good news and I will follow-up with more information later next week. I have appreciated the blog space you have given to the Kofa NWR mountain lion mismanagement issues and for your reasoned perspectives. I also thank your readers for any calls, faxes, letters, and e-mails they have sent, beginning with the proposed 2006 Kofa lion hunt and now, to date, by helping stop the death of Kofa collared cougars while public input is provided through proper NEPA processes. The moratorium on Kofa NWR mountain lion control is substantive evidence that members of the public unequivocally make a difference in governmental decision-making if the public is persistent and has facts, science, logic, and evidence to support their positions against agency mismanagement. Although serious damage to the Kofa lion breeding population has already occurred through unethical AGFD lion depredations, and the results are forever irreversible, I thank the USFWS and the AGFD for making the decision to institute a moratorium, which was not an easy decision given some of their constituencies. However, any such decision emphatically would not have occurred without the impetus of public outcry and behind the scenes negotiations. Such actions are most often the case with attempts to change agency decisions and the “lion’s share” of the thanks for change goes to the many conservation NGOs, other groups who champion ethical and transparent governmental decision-making, and individual members of the public, such as those who read and post to this blog and others. Thank you all and please continue to support groups and individuals who ask that our governmental officials make ethical, logical, and sound decisions based on facts and not illogical and ingrained biases. After all, those officials are our public servants, we citizens are their employer, and as such, they owe “the American people, hard work, integrity, fairness, and a voice in the protection of their trust resources”.

    “Partners in Kofa National Wildlife Refuge bighorn sheep restoration effort announce moratorium on mountain lion control”

    http://www.azgfd.gov/artman/publish/article_797.shtml

    More information regarding the Kofa NWR cougar and wilderness water sagas at:

    http://dpatterson.blogspot.com/2008/04/govt-suspends-lion-killings-around-kofa.html

    Thank you,
    Ron Kearns
    Saturday, April 19, 2008
    14:11 AZ

  10. Ron Kearns April 21, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    Good Afternoon/Evening,

    Another update to the Kofa NWR Cougar Saga:

    Government Halts “Lethal Removal” of Refuge Puma after PEER Intervention

    http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=1031

    http://www.peer.org/docs/nwr/08_21_4_kofa_ltr.pdf

    Thanks for your help with saving the few remaining Kofa NWR cougars.

    Ron Kearns

  11. Deb April 21, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    Thanks Ron, for all your updates! I’ll do a follow up post soon. It is great to hear they have a year reprieve. Thanks to you and Daniel and the PEER group in general for your work on this issue!

  12. Ron Kearns April 22, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Yuma Sun: Officials halt mountain lion killings at Kofa Refuge

    http://www.yumasun.com/news/officials_41191___article.html/kofa_refuge.html

    Please add comments below the article. This is a good way to get information into the public record. Registration is a requirement that has eliminated crude personal attacks.

    Thanks,
    Ron Kearns

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