Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Kofa Lions granted reprieve

kofa lion, alive

*updated to add the picture of the last Kofa lion that was killed, obviously before his death. picture courtesy of Daniel Patterson, who received the photo from USFWS Southwest Arizona NWR Complex Manager Mitch Ellis.  They would not release the “mortality” photo, which has some implications that do not reflect well on them.*

The state and federal groups have announced that the Kofa NWR lions have a one year reprieve from being hunted via radio collars. PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) put pressure on Kofa and the AGFD, which appears to have resulted in the Kofa NWR and AGFD’s announcement of the reprieve, though of course the refuge managers themselves deny that PEER had any influence at all on the decision. I find that hard to imagine.

From PEER’s article:

Arizona Game & Fish derives significant revenue from selling bighorn hunting tags and is concerned that cougar predation may be costing it potential revenue. The federal refuge also expends significant funds to kill cougars in the name of bighorn protection, yet refuge management still allows the annual hunting of more than ten bighorn rams on the Kofa NWR itself.

What a mass of contradictions that is! And it looks like it tells most of the $tory of the motivation of the AGFD.

What does this reprieve mean? It means that the AGFD and Kofa NWR will not kill the mountain lions on Kofa land for the next year, though they “might” continue to trap and collar them. Hunters are not supposed to use GPS to track and kill the lions, but they are still allowed to kill them off refuge land. I can’t help but to wonder whether there is some back room winking and nudging going on, since the Kofa management has been consistantly anti-predator in every document they produce and action they’ve taken. Not to mention in their concern for their revenue stream.

In the next year, Kofa will research to determine (to the best of their ability) what has been causing the decline in herd size of the Kofa Bighorn Sheep. In the most recent Yuma Sun article, they’re making it clear what outcome they expect. For anyone trained in science, you know that such bias going into a research project generally means you do a piss poor job of analyzing the data, and that the research procedure itself has a tendency to be flawed when you make no attempt to be unbiased. Why do I think that the AGFD and the Kofa management is biased? Because in the article, they are quoted as saying that they will spend the next year to determine what role the lions have played in the sheep herds.

They are broadcasting what they expect to find. I didn’t see any mention of the many other factors that will almost certainly have played a contributing role:

  • drought (and thus reduction in resources available to the sheep),
  • herd health (sheep are well known to be vulnerable to respiratory problems, which kofa nwr itself says is more prevalent during drought conditions, which would mean now),
  • environmental pressure and destruction by humans, and
  • other environmental factors that could contribute to low-fertility and/or high mortality of the young sheep.

One other tidbit is that sheep populations are going up. And that, folks, was between ’06 and ’07. Before 2 lions were killed.

Given the ever increasing amounts of poisons in the world, given the connection that environmental scientists have found between pollen amounts and carbon dioxide, given that ecology and population biology is never a simple equation with two variables, it seems to me that the answer to what is causing the herd decline is a complicated question that doesn’t lead itself to an easy answer. What exactly are the Kofa managers doing to examine the entire ecology, rather than just counting heads?

It isn’t that Kofa managers aren’t aware…at least, information taken from their website would lead me to believe that someone at Kofa was knowledgeable about this at one point:

Disease in bighorn sheep is most prevalent when animals are stressed and during severe drought. Multiple diseases may also combine to increase mortality. Bighorns seem particularly susceptible to respiratory problems like bacterial pneumonia. Pasturella, for example, can be carried by healthy domestic sheep and goats, but is deadly when transmitted to wild sheep. Scabies is another common disease easily transmitted to bighorns; it was responsible for a significant decline on San Andres NWR in 1978. Disease transmission from burros or horses to bighorn sheep has not been substantiated; however, isolated cases of transmission from cattle to bighorn sheep have been documented. Since the late 1800s, diseases transmitted by domestic sheep and goats have caused large, recurrent population-level declines in bighorn sheep throughout the western US. These declines have been well documented, and subsequent regulations restricting contact between domesticated and wild sheep have been enacted. It is imperative to keep any domestic sheep or goats well away from bighorn sheep range.

Chronic sinusitis is prevalent in bighorn sheep throughout Arizona. In severe cases, necrosis of the frontal bone and thinning of the braincase creates holes and abscessing in the brain, which is fatal. The leading theory for cause of this condition is bacterial infection secondary to necrotic bot fly larvae (Oestrus ovis), which are deposited in the nostrils of bighorn sheep. Evidence of chronic sinusitis has been common in the Kofa bighorn sheep herd, though it appears to be less prevalent now than during the 1980s and 1990s.

We already know how many sheep the hunters kill, as well as generally how many the lions have killed. The sheep herd dropped by almost 400 in the space of 2 years. We are to believe that the lions were killing 40 sheep per year, each? Let’s account for the hunters and make wild guesses as to the possible impacts of predation on the birth rate, and assume 20 sheep per year, by each of the 5 lions that had originally lived at Kofa, before two were killed in this past year. That still leaves us well below the 400 by which the herd dropped. If 20 per year is a normal amount for each lion, why are lions considered to be “offending” if they have killed two within six months?

Either four sheep per year is a more typical amount for each lion, in which case it is ludicrous to assign them blame for the reduction of the sheep herd size by 400, or Kofa management came up with a ridiculously low “allowed” meals on the part of the lions so that they could give a superficial appearance of not being anti-predator, and yet stacking the deck in favor of death to every lion on Kofa.

Ron has requested that we comment on the Yuma sun article and mark it as “recommended” to help keep this issue in people’s minds. You have to register in order to be able to comment, but anyone can “recommend” an article. Daniel Patterson has a quick blog post about this as well, with instructions on getting onto the mailing list to comment as part of the public process that will soon be started.

jefferson memorial, potomic and fog


18 responses to “Kofa Lions granted reprieve

  1. Ron Kearns April 24, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    Good Afternoon Deb,

    Thank you for your detailed post. I am still posting on the Yuma Sun site @:

    I look forward to you and others getting involved in the Kofa cougar management EA by submitting comments. This will be the *only* opportunity to get your ideas and those of your readers into the government record where they become valuable. Your reasoned suggestions can make the difference in the potential number of cougar depredation orders the agencies might recommend as an alternative in the EA. There is no doubt that others and your participation in the EA process will change the past Kofa cougar mismanagement. I will keep your readers apprised of the EA’s progressive statuses.

    Thanks Deb,
    Ron Kearns

  2. Deb April 25, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Thanks Ron!

    I just got my email from the FWS today. The “formal scoping period” (when they’ll accept our comments) is from April 24 – May 24. Looks like this is step one. If anyone wants to submit a comment and isn’t yet on their mailing list, I can forward the pdf that they sent out today, just leave me a comment (with a valid email address) and I’ll send it to you.

    They’re currently calling a lion “offending” if he or she kills more than one sheep in a six month period. Two sheep a year! What do they expect these lions to eat?

    I’ll work on something to send them.

  3. Ron Kearns April 26, 2008 at 1:05 am

    Hi Deb,

    I did not get the pdf. I do not know how they forgot me! Please send what you received.


  4. Deb April 26, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    Ron, Sent!

    All: I’m still sort of figuring out what some of these terms mean, so to explain a bit more to others, based on my limited understanding, it goes something like this:

    1. Formal Scoping Period – a time for getting comments, and especially important, alternatives on the record
    2. Draft Environmental Analysis – comments are limited to the proposed alternatives…in other words, if an alternative to killing the mountain lions is not brought up, formally, in the next month, it won’t be something that is considered during the analysis.

    And then I’m not sure. But for now, we’re in this formal scoping period, and now is perhaps when our “alternative” views will have the most impact.

    Apparently the Kofa NWR received a lot of comments against the proposed mountain lion hunt a year and a half ago during a public comment period.

    Unfortunately, whether on purpose or through some weird omission, they seem to be limiting the audience for the pdf I mentioned in my earlier comment. They’re also not posting it on the Kofa websites. The Yuma Sun (Yuma, Az newspaper) is publicizing it…which essentially means the local hunters are getting the information, but not necessarily the general public.

  5. Pingback: Animal Rights Violations Part 5 : Elaine Vigneault

  6. Ron Kearns April 28, 2008 at 6:38 pm


    The Mountain Lion Scoping EA letter (the .pdf) is now posted on the Kofa NWR site as a News Flash @

    The press release is now on the FWS Virtual News Room @

    Most of the plans, reports needed are available as links to the right of the News Flash on the Kofa NWR website and the press release and comment e-mail address are below the News Flash section.

    My prompting may have helped…

  7. Ron Kearns April 29, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    Good Afternoon Deb,

    See PEER’s news release today regarding misstatements and omissions by the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) and the Kofa NWR staffs in the agencies’ moratorium news release. The issue of not mentioning the increase of bighorn numbers for 2006-2007 and clinging to the old and lowest estimates of 2006 is exposed.

    Ron Kearns

  8. Deb April 29, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    I’m glad they finally posted the pdf so the public can actually get ahold of it! I’m really disturbed that they continue to mislead (and apparently have a willing accomplice in the yuma sun) about the sheep numbers, since the sheep numbers are their entire justification for the lion killings. Not that I trusted them to begin with, but I suppose I wouldn’t have expected their subterfuge to be so obvious.

    I’m glad that peer is highlighting it, and it was actually thanks to daniel’s comments on one of the yuma sun articles that made me look for the information myself! So hat’s off to Daniel as well.

  9. Ron Kearns April 29, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    Here is an excellent 3D-like Color Flow Chart of the EA process entitled ‘NEPA Decision Making’ that illustrates the flow from the initial stages of the Proposed Federal Action, Scoping, EA, FONSI, and Implementation. There are detours, as needed, based on comments, evidence presented, etc.

    Thanks for this link go to a seasoned, respected Ph.D. who has striven to ensure science-based decision-making in all aspects of governmental and public life throughout a lifelong career in the environmental field.

  10. Deb April 29, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    That’s great! Definitely helps to understand the process and how we can impact things. I included it in my post on the formal scoping period.

  11. Ron Kearns April 20, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Arizona Game and Fish extends moratorium restricting mountain lion predation management on the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge

  12. Ron Kearns April 23, 2009 at 5:03 pm


  13. Ron Kearns April 28, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Yuma Sun: Moratorium on killing mountain lions extended

  14. Ron Kearns August 4, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Kofa NWR Mountain Lion News

    Moratorium Ends

    Draft Environmental Assessment for Limiting Mountain Lion Predation on Desert Bighorn Sheep on the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge is finally available after a year and 1-month since the Scoping period closed last June 2008

    Kofa refuge lions may be killed again by State of AZ


    For the Draft EA, a copy is available here:

  15. Ron Kearns August 25, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Please consider commenting on the Draft Environmental Assessment for Limiting Mountain Lion Predation on Desert Bighorn Sheep on the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.

    The Draft EA (DEA) is open until Oct 2, 2009, or 1-month, 8 days from today. The following discussion explains my support for the ‘No Action Alternative A’ as the best option—to date—that allows mountain lions to exist on Kofa NWR.

    Once the FWS receives public comments, agency reviewers are supposed to consider all comments fully and modify the 3 Alternatives—or perhaps consider other new Alternatives—to reflect substantive recommendations by the public. However, the FWS replied to a PEER request inquiring about the public’s opportunities to further comment on the changes to the Alternatives recommended by the public. Southwest Arizona NWR Complex Manager Ellis stated that no more open, public comment periods would be available for the next step of the process, the Final EA (FEA) and a most often associated document, the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). Therefore, whatsoever consideration the FWS might give to modifying the Alternatives—based on the public’s DEA comments—the government’s decision is final with a signed FONSI. The only recourse for the public that I know of at this point is to appeal to the District Court affirming that the FONSI did not sufficiently address the full range of reasonable Alternatives submitted by the public and therefore did not comply fully with NEPA requirements.

    On other outcome could be a determination by the agency that the public DEA comments exposed enough concerns that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required. If that occurred, the Public Scoping and Public Comment period would begin anew. See a NEPA Decision Making flowchart here:

    There are 3 Alternatives available in the DEA. I suggest that you strongly consider the No Action Alternative A as the best option to save the greatest number of mountain lions for the longest possible time. There may be modifications of Alternative A that you might suggest that could further enhance the longevity of research data from GPS-collared Kofa mountain lions before they are killed once they leave the refugium of Kofa NWR.

    Unfortunately—and by USFWS/AGFD design—all 3 Alternatives in the DEA allow for the killing of Kofa lions, just at different rates and at different geographic locations. Therefore, if the USFWS is not going to allow Kofa lions that are captured and GPS-collared for research on Kofa to live and roam freely throughout the refuge and environs—and without a successful lawsuit to counter this killing—then the No Action Alternative A will at least not permit the State AGFD or anyone else to enter upon Federal refuge lands to kill lions that have preyed upon 2 or more bighorn sheep in 6 months. The ‘offending lions’ would have to leave the protection of the Federal refuge onto the public lands of BLM or other jurisdictions. That situation exists today in the area known as the Kofa Mountains Complex, which includes Kofa NWR and adjacent areas, and would continue to exist under the No Action Alternative A, as it is currently written before the review of DEA public comments.

    The current GPS-collared tom lion—KM04—is scheduled to be shot by Arizona Game and Fish Department staff once he leaves the boundary of Kofa NWR. Lion KM04, similar to the previous 2 collared Kofa lions that were killed, will be easily tracked down to a general area by satellite GPS location data. Then the final pinpoint location for the kill is achieved through the collar’s accessory VHF transmitter beacon sending location signals that are picked up by a handheld VHF frequency antenna by the shooters on the ground. Sometimes there is the additional assistance of a VHF antenna affixed to an aircraft that provides the ground crew with updated locations of the lion.

    Thank you,
    Ron Kearns
    Retired Kofa NWR Wildlife Biologist, USFWS
    Former Federal Collateral Duty Refuge Law Enforcement Officer, USFWS

  16. Ron Kearns August 25, 2009 at 10:36 pm


    I appreciate that you provide an organized site to post current Kofa lion topics and retrieve archives. When working on lion-related issues, I often access ‘Invisible Voices’ instead of searching my computer folders and files because of the quickness with referencing your site.

  17. Deb August 28, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    Ron, that’s pretty cool to hear! 🙂

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