Apologies for starting off with a gruesome photo. Sometimes it is necessary to know what the stakes are. That is a picture of the first Kofa Mountain Lion, killed in September 2007. Picture provided to me by Ron Kearns, who received it from the government through a public records request. This mountain lion (aka cougar aka puma) had killed more than one Bighorn Sheep in a six month period, and that is how the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge managers justified killing him.
I’ve been writing about the Kofa Mountain Lions for almost a year and a half. I stumbled on the first bit of information sort of by chance. I can’t actually remember how I came across the information. At the time, it was during a public comment period about the Mountain Lion proposed hunt. I wrote in, got some friends to write in, and in the end it was HSUS (believe it or not) that saved the day, at least temporarily, for those mountain lions, via a lawsuit against the US Game and Fishing Department.
Since then, two of the five Kofa Mountain Lions have been hunted via radio collar and killed in government sanctioned canned hunts.
The reason given for the killing was that the Bighorn Sheep population was at the lowest level since the 1980’s. Potential causes for population decline would include: drought, disease and sickness, and disturbance and/or destruction of habitat, especially sensitive areas, in addition to whatever impact the mountain lions have on the population. Hunters, who all along have been sold hunting permits for the Bighorn Sheep despite the low sheep population, are never included in the “official” lists of possible causes of lowering sheep numbers. For that, among other reasons, the list I mentioned is not exhaustive. It is safe to say that no one has bothered to find out, yet, exactly why the sheep population has dropped. They simply used it as an excuse to kill mountain lions in radio collar canned hunts.
The government agencies also neglected to mention that the sheep population rose by close to 20% between 2006 and 2007. While all five mountain lions were alive. (The first was killed in September of 2007, so in the interests of accuracy, all five lions were only impacting the populations for 3/4 of 2007, and only four lions for the remaining quarter of 2007.)
So the government mislead the public. The government used partial information to justify killing mountain lions that had killed two sheep in a six month period. The government, however, refused to even limit the number of sheep hunting permits they were selling, even while they claimed the sheep population was in danger due to the predation of the lions.
PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) stepped up to the plate this time, and again the mountain lion hunting has been halted, this time for a year. In this next year the government is going to go through the formal analysis process, including a “formal scoping period”, to start research into the impact the mountain lions are having on the sheep populations.
We all know that the government is already biased towards the hunters, against the mountain lions, against biodiversity, against letting animals live their lives for themselves, rather than as entertainment revenue. The hunting permits for the Bighorn Sheep are the refuge’s biggest source of income. We know this, and yet the government is actually obligated to go through this formal process to justify what they are doing.
And this is where we come in. You, and me, and everyone else can write in and give our arguments against the mountain lion hunting.
From now until May 24, 2008 it is what they call the “formal scoping period” and we can send letters, electronically or via snail mail, with our thoughts, and have them entered formally and officially in public record. And, especially importantly, we should include our suggestions for alternatives. For instance, no hunting of mountain lions on Kofa NWR by agencies or hunters.
That would be a really fantastic alternative to propose.
And since this is the government, it isn’t just the logic, the science, and the information that will count, but the number of people who register with that opinion.
It is “just” three mountain lions that we’re fighting for, but it is more than that too. It is the right for animals to live their own lives. We argue for this all the time when we try to convince people to go vegan, and I think most of us sort of assume that the wild animals already have this freedom…freedom to live. Yet, that is far from the truth. The government likes to manage the wildlife just as much as they like to manage everything else. (This should be no surprise: deer, wolves, mute swans, pigeons, canadian geese, coyote, bear, seals, squirrels…just about every animal exists on the sufferance of people in power who make decisions about their lives.)
So it isn’t just mountain lions we’re fighting for, but all animals. How can we argue for “domestic” animals to have freedom if we can’t even guarantee it for wild animals?
Well, we clearly can and need to do both. It isn’t mutually exclusive.
Ron Kearns is the main reason I’ve kept up with everything going on with the Kofa Lions. He worked there for most of his career, he has a lot of contacts in the area, and one of those contacts supplied him with a great chart that shows the process, and the impact that this formal scoping period can have.
It isn’t often that they are required to listen to us. Of course there is a danger as well – our silence, if we stay silent, makes the voices of those who want the death of the mountain lions that much louder. To my mind, the letter writing for the scoping period is both an opportunity and an obligation.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has (finally) posted the pdf explaining the formal scoping period for the Mountain Lions on their website. The press release is also available, and there are additional links on that page that might be helpful to read.
If you want to write but aren’t sure where to start, or have any question on either the process or the science or whatever, please let me know and I’ll do whatever I can to help. You can read other things I’ve written about the Kofa Mountain Lions.
It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but the more letters that the government receives on behalf of the mountain lions, the more impact that point of view will have overall. It is just three mountain lions, you might be thinking, but it is more than that too. It is a chance to make a stand for wildlife, to make a statement that wildlife is no more there for our purposes than any other animal is.
You can visit http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/arizona/kofa/ for additional background information.
Comments must be submitted in writing by May 24, 2008.
SnailMail: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 356 W. 1st St., Yuma, AZ 85364
Some websites to look at for information on cougars (aka mountain lions aka pumas):
http://www.cougarnet.org/ (“Using Science To Understand Cougar Ecology”)
An article that discusses the importance of predators in maintaining biodiversity, written in readable science: Predator-Prey Relationships
Some issues I think are important to bring up:
- Biodiversity, and the importance of predators
- The lack of concrete knowledge of how much a mountain lion will actually eat
- The negative impact caused by human intrusion on sensitive areas
- Disease, especially that transmitted from domesticated sheep; this is impacted also by habitat pressure
- The refuge managers’ refusal to halt bighorn sheep hunting despite the lower-than-normal sheep numbers
- The refuge managers’ behavior in misleading the public about the current state of the sheep population, which grew by almost 20% from 2006-2007 (according to their own surveys) while all five mountain lions were still alive, and using the only the data from 2001-2006 (during which there was a decrease in sheep populations) to justify killing the mountain lions in late 2007 and early 2008.
Please also mention that you want an alternative to be considered…such as no hunting of mountain lions on Kofa NWR by agencies or hunters.
When it comes time for the other parts of this process, only alternatives presented during this formal scoping period will be considered. If we don’t suggest no hunting of mountain lions, who will?
Thanks to anyone who will write. Thanks to Mary for posting about this a couple days ago, and Ron for making sure I have been kept up to date on everything going on.
Picture of “K03″, killed earlier this month, picture given by the refuge officials to Daniel Patterson.