Ron Kearns emailed me today with a timeline that he wrote up last night regarding the Mountain Lions at the Kofa NWR. This is important, because it outlines the history of the lions on the refuge, or more specifically where the confirmed knowledge starts, and it also gives a sense of the overall situation. The actions that have been taken by the agencies, the unethical and perhaps illegal things that the agencies have done. The process by which the agencies are bound tends to be very confusing, which is part of Ron’s motivation in writing up this timeline. That confusion is what the refuge managers have depended on, I believe, to make sure that average people who don’t deal with the process day in and day out won’t catch on to the many questionable decisions made and actions taken.
Ron has given me permission to post his timeline here. (*updated on 5/28/2008*)
Kofa NWR Timeline of Cougar Research, Collaring, Plans, and Depredations
1) October 2003: An AGFD biologist observed 3 cougars, a queen and her 2 cubs, on the Kofa NWR bighorn sheep helicopter survey
2) January 2004: Kofa Refuge Wildlife Biologist Ron Kearns began a cougar natural history research project consisting of installing TrailMaster™ cameras at Kofa NWR watering holes.
The AGFD biologist he borrowed the 1st TM camera from said he would probably not “get anything” (That might have been a reference to the AGFD’s belief that lions were only transient on Kofa NWR or, just passing through, as they have always believed).
3) Fall of 2005: Biologist Kearns purchases a satellite GPS radio collar for $4500.00 as a research tool to learn the life history of Kofa cougars. Increased efforts of the TM camera study occurred with coverage of additional watering holes. Cougars are camera-captured at these sites.
4) January 2006: Biologist Kearns and SCEP Student Ms. Lindsay Smythe work with a government cougar trapper in an unsuccessful capture/collar attempt. Biologist Kearns retires and Ms. Smythe replaces him as the Kofa refuge wildlife biologist and as the lead FWS Kofa cougar researcher. The AGFD is not involved in the Kofa NWR cougar research during the January 2004 to January 2006 period.
5) February 2006: At some point after Mr. Kearns’ early retirement and after June 2006, the AGFD becomes involved extensively with the Kofa cougar research. Mr. Kearns volunteers with lion research until June 5, 2006.
6) April 2006: ‘Black Mountains Predation Management Plan, AZGFD, April 2006’
The Arizona Black Mountains area is experiencing similar problems affecting Kofa wildlife. However, the AGFD plan received public review that included an extension to the original comment period. The 2007 Report was not open whatsoever for review, although review was promised and even referenced in 1 of the CatEx documents prepared my Ms. Susanna Henry.
7) July 18, 2006: Then-Kofa NWR Manager J. Paul Cornes abruptly and angrily rescinded Mr. Kearns’ Volunteer Services Agreement vowing that he will never again volunteer for Kofa NWR, notwithstanding his 25+years of federal service at Kofa.
8 ) September 2006: Mr. Kearns accidentally learned that Kofa Biologist Smythe had given a Yuma Valley Rod and Gun Club (YVRGC) presentation wherein the AGFD and USFWS proposed a Kofa mountain lion hunt. Mr. Kearns had opposed such a hunt for 15+ years and he presented evidence against such lion hunts during joint annual AGFD/Kofa/USFWS hunt coordination meetings in Yuma.
9) November 20, 2006: Kofa NWR Update. I receive this lion update on November 29 at the same time as a I received the September 14, 2006 Update. Ms. Smythe states this :
“I set snares on October 22nd on a reported sheep kill near High Tank 7, but the lion never returned. We removed the head from that sheep and had Bob Henry and Lowell Whittaker of AGFD take a look at it. We determined that sheep was at least 8 years old and it had chronic sinusitus – when we removed the sheath off of the broken horn it was full of holes. That sheep was probably blind in one eye and not long for this world. We did not see any lions during the helicopter survey”.
Throughout the lion “research” after I retired, I have requested such detailed photo and written documentation of the age and the prior health condition of assumed lion-killed bighorn. Lions that kill sick, old, or weakened bighorn must not have those kills count towards the arbitrary “offending lion” quota.
10) November 22, 2006: ‘Kofa Mountain Lion Hunting Plan’ Draft Released
Voluminous opposition to a Kofa NWR lion hunt from the public
11) January 4 2007: ‘Federal Court Decision Triggers Cancellation of Wildlife Refuge Mountain Lion Hunt‘.
A pending HSUS lawsuit regarding the undocumented possible detrimental effects of hunting to many national wildlife refuges’ wildlife populations prompted the USFWS to rescind the lion hunt plan proposal.
12) February 2007: Preliminary work is documented regarding the variously named Kofa NWR bighorn management “action plan” “white paper” “sheep plan” which later became the April 17, 2007 Investigative Report and Recommendations for the Kofa Bighorn Sheep Herd (2007 Report, Report)
The secretive nature of the plan is illustrated in this e-mail exchange between Kofa NWR Biologist Smythe and AGFD Game Specialist Henry. I requested information from Biologist Smythe and then she wrote the following to AGFD Game Specialist Bob Henry on February 06, 2007:
“Maybe you could fax me the data sheets and I could at least give him the basic information for now. Just don’t tell him we’ve been working on a sheep plan or he’s going to want that too.”
The “sheep plan” Ms. Smythe referred to, that she did not want me to read and that Mr. Henry did not tell me about following Smythe’s admonition, was in fact the “white paper” or the 2007 Report. The public never got a chance to review that Report before the 1st lion was killed and the wilderness waters were built in violation of the Wilderness Act and NEPA. All members of the AGFD and Kofa staffs hid this information from others and me until after the fact. If the public had received the courteous opportunity to review the Kofa/AGFD plans, similar to the AGFD ‘Draft Black Mountains Bighorn Sheep Management Plan’, the current problems could have been avoided.
13) February 28 2007: The capture/collaring of the young tom lion (lion, KM01, collared cougar) KM = Kofa Mountains and 01 is the first cougar collared.
14) April 12, 2007: “HCM 2008 – A Concurrent Memorial urging the United States Congress to take immediate action to recover the Kofa NWR desert bighorn sheep population, passed April 12, 2007”
“That the United States Congress take immediate action to reaffirm the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s position as the leading agency in the management of nonmigratory and nonendangered state wildlife.”
‘That the Arizona Game and Fish Commission employ, without any 2 unnecessary delays, burdens or obstacles, all management tools and measures 3 necessary to recover the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge desert bighorn sheep 4 population, including the management of predators, water developments, human 5 intervention and the potential for disease epizootics.”
The AGFD Commission Vote regarding HCM 2008 was unanimous.
House Concurrent Memorial (HCM) 2008, Urge protection, KOFA herd : The Commission was provided with a copy of this legislation; however, it is being amended and the Commission will be provided a copy of the amended legislation as soon as it is available . Motion: Martin moved and Hernbrode seconded THAT THE COMMISSION VOTE TOSUPPORT THIS BILL AS CURRENTLY WRITTEN. Vote: Unanimous
http://www.azgfd.gov/pdfs/inside_azgfd/minutes/2007/020907CommMtgMin.pdf See page 2 of 24.
The hubris of the AGFD and the YVRGC (hunting club) is evident when you consider that they were working side-by-side with the Kofa staff when the HCM 2008 was unanimously passed by the Department’s Commission following the Arizona State Legislatures’ bicameral decision by an overall combined total House and Senate vote of: 56 for and 29 against.
I think the HCM action instigated the rushed and secretive actions in the 2007 Report; otherwise, NEPA and full public review and scrutiny might have occurred as promised. The AGFD took over Kofa NWR management and that still occurs today even with the new Complex Manager.
15) April 13, 2007: The large sums of money donated by groups such as the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society (ADBSS) may prejudice wildlife management decisions on Kofa NWR regarding lions and artificial water developments. On April 13, the ADBSS donated $138,080.00 to the AGFD with the memo “SAVE KOFA SHEEP”. The sum supports many Kofa NWR projects, some that are very important and worthwhile; however, a correspondence presented on May 31 illustrates that donations might carry a payback requirement in lost Kofa wildlife, albeit just the death of natural top-level predators.
16) April 17, 2007: Date on the final 2007 Investigative Report and Recommendations for the Kofa Bighorn Sheep Herd although not officially signed until Monday, June 4, 2007.
17) April 20, 2007: (From Kofa/AGFD pers. comm.) or (“April 17 or 18” from Contact Lion Trapper Mr. Ron Thompson’s field notes) First confirmed young ram bighorn killed by KM01 at a location “less than one mile from the Kofa NWR boundary”, but definitely not within the KNWR boundary.
18 ) May 24, 2007: 2nd confirmed bighorn preyed on by KM01 and the first and only Kofa bighorn killed by this lion within the Kofa NWR boundary.
19) May 25, 2007: The AGFD Director Mr. Duane Shroufe (Director Shroufe) signed the Kofa Mtns Complex Predation Management Plan (Plan)
The signing happened although internal review by an important AGFD lion researcher, Wildlife Specialist II Dr. Ted McKinney (Dr. McKinney), who expressed concerns with a main concept of the Plan, had not occurred nor was there any coordination with BLM.
Since the Plan did not receive proper review, I formally request of Director Shroufe to halt all the actions therein and I ask for an open, full public review and comment period similar to the comment period for the Black Mountains Plan.
Note: I do not know when this AGFD plan, with only a Department signatory and not a joint FWS/AGFD signatory began or how much the USFWS was involved.
20) May 31, 2007: On Thursday, just 3 days before an AGFD law enforcement officer shot collared cougar KM01 on a Sunday morning, Mr. Jim Broschart, ADBSS Treasurer, sent an e-mail to Gary R. Hovatter with quid pro quo overtones. Such, I gave you this now you give me that implications demonstrate how donated monies might bias and influence the AGFD’s decisions.
Note: In the following exchange, Duane Shroufe was the then-AGFD Director, the highest position in the Department.
“Mr. Hovatter, Why haven’t you returned my email? Is this true this lion has made TWO kills now. On bighorn sheep! I need the dates and locations of these kills. Acording (sic) to the usf&w paper we supported ($138080) two strikes in 6 months and the lion goes to the bid (sic) kofa in the sky. When is his date he does have a collar!! Read the following after my info. I do out source for info.”
Jim Broschart ADBSS Treasurer
“Jlm, (sic) I don’t know him. If he gives you grief go over his head to his supervisor. Or try Suzanne Henry at the KOFA office instead of Lindsey Smythe. I talked to Duane Shroufe last night and he assured me that if that the lion leaves the refuge again it will be removed. Supposedly they actually have two confirmed mortalities attributed to that lion. The AGFD did not know it was off the refuge earlier this month. They have since tightened up the sharing of information between the USFWS and AGFD. Now the lion is back on the refuge and they are still dicking (sic) around with the %$#@ white paper. Its supposed to be signed this week but I would expect further stalling tactics by the USFWS before it is. Good luck and keep on this.” [Note: no author was listed for this section of the e-mail]
21) June 03, 2007: On a Sunday morning at about 06:30, AGFD Field Supervisor Mr. Dave Conrad (Field Supervisor Conrad) shot cougar KM01 at Dripping Springs, outside the Kofa NWR boundary.
Interestingly, Director Shroufe signed the Plan on May 25, the day after the second lion-killed bighorn’s confirmation on May 24, and then the day after killing lion KM01 on June 3, Dr. Tuggle signed the 2007 Report on June 4. This pattern appears to be more than coincidental and suggests deliberate reactions to threshold triggers set to determine lethal lion removal and expedited attempts to make the killing appear official.
Lion KM02 was captured at Adams Well, Kofa NWR during this timeframe, but his collar’s release mechanism malfunctioned causing the collar to “fall off” somewhere in the area. The agencies will not give us the location of that dropped collar.
22) June 04, 2007: Dr. Tuggle signed the 2007 Report, the day following the cougar KM01’s death.
23) June 05, 2007: Two days after KM01’s extermination, Asst. Manager Susanna Henry e-mailed Refuge Biologist Smythe, the FWS Kofa lion research lead and the Project Manager for the current $71,300.00+ lion and bobcat scat study. Notwithstanding the research value of a FWS-owned satellite GPS-collared lion, the 1-year, plus effort to capture a lion, and at great expense of fieldwork and travel per diem costs for her and other employees, this was Ms. Smythe’s curious reply:
“BAD lion! Did we get the carcass? Good to know Ron (Thompson) got another one collared—although I hate to think of what he’s eating at Adams Well.”
Ms. Smythe’s insensitive comment is hardly an expression of “mixed feeling” regarding killing a costly research subject and instead reveals her actual biased position by implying that the next lion will soon succumb to the same fate. This lion was KM02, the one animal with the collar that later “fell off”. Any researcher must put personal biases aside or their scientific conclusions cannot be trusted.
24) June 11, 2007: The public still did not have access to the “white paper” or the official USFWS position on defining the “offending lion” concept.
The information occurred after the offending lion was dead, after the full completion of the Yaqui Tank redevelopment, and after the McPherson Tank redevelopment construction was underway. Below is Manager Cornes’ June 11, 2007 e-mail reply following my initial request:
“Mr. Cornes, Last winter when you and I were discussing bighorn/lion issues you stated the FWS was working on a White Paper. May I receive a copy of that document? Thank you,
“Ron, The “white paper” will be available to the public very soon. I will ensure that you recieve (sic) a copy as soon as it is available. Paul” (The “white paper” quote was Cornes’ original emphasis).
The next excerpts are from a correspondence on January 31, 2007 between Biologist Smythe and Game Specialist Henry involving the changing the name of the “Action Plan” to the current 2007 Report per a request by Manager Paul Cornes. This is important because others and I were always told it was an investigatory white paper, not a management/action plan, and that we would be given a chance to comment on the paper (I have corroborating evidence) but we were never given that opportunity. Posting of the Report on the Kofa NWR website occurred after the collared KM01’s death and after both artificial water developments in wilderness were completed.
Biologist Smythe wrote, “Latest attempt. Paul asked me this morning if we would consider changing the title to something that sounded a little less like an action plan and more like a white paper. (I can see your eyes rolling. I saw that.). He’s concered (sic) about the first impression our folks will receive from the document. I made a suggestion. Harpoon it if you so desire.”
Game Specialist Henry replied, “Yep, I rolled my eyes. But I don’t really care what it’s called. Your suggestion is fine with me.”
Kofa Biologist Smythe and AGFD Game Specialist Henry are the 2 lead Kofa NWR lion researchers who share all the satellite GPS collar location data for all lions that can be depredated in the Kofa Mountains Complex whether they are trapped on Kofa NWR or not (but only trapping occurs within the refuge boundary, to anyone’s current knowledge). Therefore, the USFWS is complicit with all lion depredation orders. However, lions cannot be killed within the refuge through some AGFD/Kofa NWR agreement and requests have been made for any official written documents confirming a legal agreement versus a simple verbal or website posted agreement.
A reference to “offending lion” was presented in a Kofa NWR Action Matrix entitled: “Needed and Existing Environmental Documentation for Desert Bighorn Sheep Recovery Action on Kofa National Wildlife Refuge”. Two excerpts from the table:
Offending Mountain Lion Removal2 Action: EA MRA 30-Day Public Review
Redevelopments at Yaqui and CatEX MRA
2Provide information to interest groups early and often to smooth implementation.
No such information regarding lion removal to “smooth implementation” was provided, in fact, the removal of lion KM01 and the Yaqui and McPherson Tank redevelopments were secretively conducted. A 30-day public review period definitely did not occur. This action matrix was not part of the 2007 Report.
25) June 18, 2007: The “White Paper” aka 2007 Report in .pdf format appeared for the first time on the Kofa NWR website for the public to access. Promised public participation never occurred although Ms. Henry’s written statement of “contacting stakeholders, such as the Sierra Club… as part of a larger outreach strategy for the Investigative Report and Recommendations for the Kofa Bighorn Sheep Herd” occurred a month earlier in the CatEx documents.
26) June ??, 2007: Categorical Exclusion, Capturing and Monitoring Wildlife and Transporting Water and Equipment, and the Installation of Evaporative Covers and Measuring Devices on Water Sources in Wilderness
This CatEx referenced collared mountain lion monitoring, evaluation and possible control but not enough detail to justify or authorize depredation.
Note: This CatEx was not released until the week of May 19, 2008 or 11-months after it was written.
27) July 02, 2007: Over 1-month following the Plan’s signatory and just short of a month since the depredation of the lion and the Report’s signatory, AGFD lion researcher Dr. McKinney expressed concerns to the AGFD Chief of Research Ms. Chasa O’Brien regarding the concept stated in the Plan that “that lion predation can have significant population-level impacts”. Dr. McKinney should have had input into the Plan before the predation document was signed.
“I just reviewed the Kofa Mtns Complex Predation Management Plan. Statement is made in there that several studies have demonstrated that lion predation can have significant population-level impacts. Concerns me somewhat when I see such comments. Note that Sawyer and Lindzey state that NO studies have clearly demonstrated population-level impacts. Our Monograph is the 1st study to address this in the manner suggested by Ballard (in paper cited in the Predator Mgt Plan), and even it suffers from the difficulty in demonstration such impact. Findings are suggestive for several studies, but lack inferential capabilities, and generally show lion kills (frequencies, numbers, differences among specific lions, etc.” (Dr. McKinney wrote the NO emphasis).
28 ) July 26, 2007: Lion KM02’s GPS-collar release mechanism malfunctions and the collar “drops-off”
29) August 13, 2007: J. Paul Cornes leaves Kofa NWR for Region 6 where he is a Refuge Supervisor over many refuge managers in the 3-state area of ND, SD, and Nebraska.
Cornes’ first and only refuge manager position was at Kofa NWR and endured for 2.7 years. He departed Kofa about 2 months after he, Ms. Henry, and several regional office staff acknowledged a secret artificial water development in Kofa NWR wilderness, which engendered the current lawsuit.
30) October 21, 2007: Lion KM03 captured and GPS-collared on Kofa NWR. The public can only assume that KM02 is still alive.
31) October 28, 2007: Southwest Arizona National Wildlife Refuge Complex Manager Mitch Ellis enters on duty to manage Kofa, Imperial, and Cibola NWRs.
Mr. Ellis was given the job without OPM competitive status where his knowledge, skills, and abilities would be compared against other applicants. He did not have the necessary bighorn sheep or mountain lion management experience compared to other possible applicants if they received the fair chance to compete for the position.
32 ) February 2008: KM03 has been an “offending lion” since his second bighorn sheep kill in February.
33) February 21, 2008: In an attempt to help prevent KM03’s death, Mr. Kearns requested information, because of questionable and unprofessional field biological protocols, to confirm that KM03, in fact, had preyed on 2 bighorn. However, no USFWS or AGFD staff replied to his many requests for 5 weeks and 5 days. The AGFD killed cougar KM03 while Kearns repeatedly requested information and Mr. Hovatter finally acknowledged the receipt of Kearns’ request 4 days after KM03’s death.
34) March 18 2008: “One additional kill has been confirmed for KM03, a desert bighorn sheep ram killed near Yaqui Tank in mid-March and confirmed by biologists in the field on March 18.”
35) March 29 2008: “The lion (KM03) left the refuge on March 28 and was taken by Department staff on the evening of March 29 in the vicinity of White Tanks in the Tank Mountains east of the refuge”.
36) April 01, 2008: Kearns sent an e-mail to Complex Manager Mitch Ellis et al. (26 people) to stop the unethical of killing collared research animals. Ellis never responded to this e-mail:
Mitch et al.
Please stop this nonsense. Do Not allow the AGFD to collar more lions while they are within the boundary of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge boundary.
Mr. Charles Ault: you are wasting taxpayer dollars with this “scat research”.
Melanie Culver Ph.D.: I think scientific ethics (not to mention horse sense) dictates that you do not kill your research subjects.
This is the second Kofa collared lion that has been killed once he left the Kofa refuge boundary. A 3rd lion ‘lost‘ his collar and he perhaps also lost his life, given the irrational behavior the AGFD displays against cougars. I have asked for the last 5+ weeks for documentation to confirm that these were lion-killed bighorn and not scavenged animals, but the AGFD has ignored me. I knew this lion was subject to a depredation order and at least you could have given me the evidence I requested. Why are you so afraid to give information to me? Is it because you are lying, you do not have the evidence to support your cougar killings, is it innate professional cowardice, what are the reasons?
Typical of AGFD/FWS/Kofa NWR agency foolishness, on 1 hand you are spending big bucks to capture; collar; track; and then kill these lions while on the other hand you are spending $71,000.00 to conduct a scat study.
Agency staffers, please try to comprehend this profound paradigm:
Live mountain lion = eats = defecates mountain lion scat = scat available for $71,000.00 study
Dead mountain lion = no eating = no mountain lion scat defecated = no mountain lion scat to pick through and study = wasted $71,000.00 = Fleecing-of-America-type research = a congressional.
I am sending this e-mail as an individual and not as part of any group. I have tried to be fair and patient; however, most of you have not even bothered to answer my e-mail requests.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
37) April 02 2008: Mr. Hovatter finally responded to Mr. Kearns’ requests for information regarding KM03, 4 days after the cougar was shot.
“I was unavailable almost all of last month and was informed last week that a there is a string of e-mails from you that includes requests for information and/or records. I was in Monday preparatory to being out of the office again for the rest of the week and attempted to call you twice, but (assuming the number I have . . . (XXX) XXX-XXX . . . is correct) all I got was a message saying the person at that number is unavailable. At that point the system would not go to voice mail and the calls ended.”
Every person understands that phone numbers are easily mistyped or misplaced, although cell phone technology makes this less common. However, sometime in 40 days Mr. Hovatter or the others I included in my e-mail requests could have sent me an e-mail or called the Kofa NWR office for my correct cell phone number.
38 ) April 07, 2008: Complex Manager Ellis responds to my questions regarding halting future AGFD collaring of Kofa cougars (which have resulted in 2 deaths) in another attempt to get an answer from him since he ignored my April 01, 2008 e-mail.
“You ask below if the FWS will discontinue the collaring of lions on the refuge as a result of the latest incident. The answer is no. At least not at this moment. I have listened to the concerns expressed by you and others, and am contemplating what our next actions should be regarding the lion studies. When we spoke last over the phone, I believe I told you the FWS will begin the NEPA process for a lion managememt plan on Kofa very soon. The proposed project is for lethal control of lions under certain circumstances to meet objectives related to the sheep population.”
39) April 10, 2008: The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) sends a cease and desist letter to Complex Manager Ellis, ‘Re: Request for Immediate Halt to Mountain Lion Trapping and Collaring’. A brief excerpt from the letter follows:
Given the already drastic impacts to the tiny lion population at Kofa, it is essential that no further capture and collaring take place, and that any currently collared lions are not tracked for extermination purposes, without the required NEPA review. We could go straight to court, but PEER makes this request out of respect for you and your position at Kofa. We are confident of success if legal action proves necessary, but that should be an unnecessary last resort. It is up to you.
Please respond with your written grant or denial of PEER’s request by April 17
40) April 18 2008: Partners in Kofa National Wildlife Refuge bighorn sheep restoration effort announce moratorium on mountain lion control
“On April 18, the Department announced it was, for up to one year, suspending the lethal removal of offending lions captured and collared on the Kofa NWR while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed the environmental assessment for its mountain lion management plan. Capturing, collaring and monitoring of lions on the refuge continues. The suspension does not affect wholly Department-resourced lethal removal of any offending lions captured and collared outside the refuge.”
The moratorium would not have occurred without PEER’s cease and desist efforts.
Once again there are requests from the public to the agencies to ensure that there are legally binding written agreements in place that consider all of the moratorium contingencies to prevent misunderstandings that might result in any collared cougar’s death.
To date, no replies for those requests for a written agreement have occurred. Handshakes and verbal agreements are untrustworthy with today’s public officials.
41) April 21, 2008: ‘ARIZONA’S KOFA REFUGE COUGARS GET ONE-YEAR REPRIEVE — Government Halts “Lethal Removal” of Refuge Puma after PEER Intervention’
There are some informative links below the PEER article.
42) April 22, 2008: ‘Partners in Kofa National Wildlife Refuge bighorn sheep restoration effort announce moratorium on mountain lion control (As corrected April 22, 2008)’
“Note: A typographical error occurred in paragraph four of this release when it was originally distributed. In the final pre-release draft, the correctly worded sentence reads: “As announced in November 2006, that year’s population survey indicated that the estimated population had dropped to an historic low of 390 animals.” In the released version it had been changed to read: “However, since 2006 the estimated population has dropped to an historic low of 390 animals.” While those familiar with other documents on the Department web site (e.g., the November 16, 2006, news release on the results of the 2006 survey and the population estimate tables in the April 2007 joint “Investigative Report”) will have immediately recognized the inaccuracy, we regret any confusion this typographical error may have caused.”
43) April 22, 2008: Regarding the April 21 Yuma Sun article, ‘Officials halt mountain lion killings at Kofa Refuge.’ Ron Kearns entered a comment refuting Complex Manager Ellis’ incorrect and misleading statement that his decision to suspend the killing was not a result of the April 10, 2008 PEER letter.
Remember that Kearns asked Ellis to please stop the AGFD collaring on April 07 and he stated, “The answer is no.” In addition, Kearns had opposed killing any lions resulting from the research he initiated in 2004, had pleaded with the agencies after the surprise killing of KM01 on June 03, 2007 and tried to prevent the death of KM03 for 5+ weeks but all agencies’ staffs ignored his requests for information. The AGFD snared and collared cougar KM03 on October 21, 2008 and Mr. Ellis officially entered on duty as Complex Manager 7 days later on October 28, 2007. Mr. Ellis clearly could have prevent the AGFD’s killing of this lion over the 5 months he was in charge and knew NEPA was a requirement as Assistant Manager Henry, Refuge Biologist Smythe, and the Region 2 Region Office staff knew by this entry in the Action Matrix sometime in the winter/Spring of 2007, about a full year before KM03 was killed and before KM01 was killed:
Offending Mountain Lion Removal2 Action: EA MRA 30-Day Public Review
From the Yuma Sun article and this is a quote from Mr. Ellis:
“Ellis said the suspension of the killings was not a result of the PEER letter, adding that the refuge has been discussing developing a mountain lion management plan for the refuge and having an environmental assessment done since December 2007.”
Mr. Ellis was clearly responsible for KM03’s death. I can only assume that after the patriarch of the Kofa lions was killed, Ellis and his AGFD cohorts, that in the face of a lawsuit, guessed that they had already done such great damage to the breeding population of Kofa lions that having 2 concurrent lawsuits was not worth the bother. The AGFD can still GPS-collar and track under the auspices of “research” and Mr. Hovatter made this statement, “And Game and Fish said it will still continue to kill offending lions off the refuge if necessary”.
Ron Kearns’ reply to Ellis’ statement:
Southwest Arizona NWR Complex Manager Mitch Ellis is a decent man with whom I first worked with when he was a wildlife biologist at Havasu National Wildlife Refuge in the late 1980s. Mr. Ellis was “given” the GS-14 job as complex manager without having to compete for the position. The previous Kofa NWR Manager, J. Paul Cornes, who managed at Kofa for less than 3 years, also did not have to compete for his Kofa manager’s job. Both employees were “put in place”, “preselected”, or “appointed” without OPM competition that helps ensure the best person for any government position. Mr. Cornes left Kofa NWR about 2 months after the killing of the first Kofa collared lion KM01 and the installation of the illegal, secretive artificial wilderness water in McPherson Pass. Following this trend, Acting Kofa Refuge Manager Susanna Henry will apparently not have to compete through fair, open OPM rules to receive the Kofa manager’s position and she is a principal cause of many of the past and current Kofa NWR problems involving mountain lions and wilderness waters. Non-competitive status is not the proper procedure to get the most qualified individuals for a position. When “given a job” the employee is beholden to the “givers” of that position for a debt of favors owed.
Mr. Ellis was likely sent to Kofa to fix some of the problems. Others and I complained because the high paying job was not advertised. Qualified applicants, several of whom I knew and who I wanted to have a chance to apply for the complex manager’s job, especially those with bighorn management experience, were not allowed to apply. However, others and I gave Mr. Ellis the benefit of the doubt. Now I am losing that benefit following his comment quoted above.
Members of the public asked Mr. Ellis to discontinue the capture/collaring/depredation of Kofa collared lions and he said he would not stop the killing. However, the next week after receiving the PEER letter, he and the Department agreed to a moratorium the next day of an extended period PEER granted Mr. Ellis to comply with the request. Without insulting anyone’s intelligence or reasoning abilities, I will let you decide for yourselves if the PEER letter was an impetus to the moratorium or not.
When Mr. Ellis arrived on Kofa in November 2007, he knew NEPA compliances were required for cougar depredation orders resulting in their death. However, he allowed the killing to continue, by following the same ill-conceived methods of Mr. Paul Cornes, while admittedly stating that an EA and an associated lion plan were required. Mr. Ellis simply would not have acted to stop the cougar killings without PEER’s influence and for him to state otherwise is extremely disingenuous and such dishonesty has characterized the agencies’ actions for several years.
Complex Manager Mitch Ellis is a good man with the professional experience, abilities, and the opportunity to change past unethical, secretive, and illegal actions by members of his staff and in concert with the AGFD staffs. If he does not follow the sound practices and principles of wildlife science to manage, with transparency, all the biodiversity on Kofa NWR and if he assumes the illogical, unethical biases of the AGFD Region IV staff and Ms. Henry, then he will fail miserably just as Mr. Cornes did. Acting Kofa Manager Susanna Henry must not be “given” the Kofa job and her unethical past and present decisions must not be allowed to stand. Her position at Kofa NWR is a conflict of interest because of her biased, unreflective agreement with the anti-predator and anti-wilderness policies of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, especially since the 2 agencies have different missions.
Southwest Arizona NWR Complex Manager Mitch Ellis acknowledges that he has complete control over the 3 complex refuges composed of Imperial, Cibola, and Kofa NWRs. All successes or failures of the complex will rest on his wildlife management abilities that he must conduct in an open, honest, ethical, and transparent manner.
4/22/2008 8:07:27 PM
44) April 23, 2008: “On April 23, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its “ Public Scoping Letter for Environmental Assessment for Management of Mountain Lions on Kofa NWR” in order to garner public input for the plan. The Service’s intent to pursue such a plan was first mentioned in the December 2007 update.”
45) May 24, 2008: Scoping comment period extended to June 23, 2008 because of public requests.
Many of the relevant documents I refer to and news releases, etc. are posted on the azgfd.gov website: http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/bhsheep/reference.shtml
I presented this timeline because the Kofa cougar issue has been long, contentious, and an often-confusing array of what action occurred when. My recounting of the events will help you comment during this important EA scoping process to assist the agency staff to determine the Preferred/Proposed Action Alternatives. The staffs must consider and record for the official record the public’s concerns and possible impacts to the environment and then incorporate those subjects in the upcoming draft EA with the fullest suite of Alternatives possible.
Some correspondences came from a public records request pursuant to the Arizona Public Records Act/Law/Statute.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
18:20 AZ (-07:00)
Update: Wednesday, May 28, 2008
10:20 AZ (-07:00)
Through the Arizona Public Records Act/Law, others and I have requested the mortality photos of cougar KM03. The AGFD’s Mr. Gary Hovatter stated the staffers responsible for killing the cougar did not take photos! To have not taken photos is a breach of scientific ethics, protocol, basic field biology, and evidentiary and documentation procedures. The Department took photos of KM01’s death and staffers prominently post on the agfd.gov website the mortality photos of the mule deer and the bighorn that KM01 and KM03 allegedly preyed on. The photos, along with field post-mortem examinations, field journals, biological/DNA samples, and morphological measurements taken, are SOP for competent field biology. I requested the AGFD/USFWS’ field protocol for lion investigations and Mr. Hovatter stated that they did not have their own protocol and used other established protocols. Surely, any logical and reasonable protocol would include photos of the dead lion to include the animal’s dentition, body size/conformation, any dissections, and most simply as evidence that the cougar was, in fact, dead. If for some reason the photos could not have been taken while afield, then the lion’s carcass was likely carried out and perhaps stored in a freezer so photos could have easily been taken off-site at any time. Did they just leave the lion in the field after they removed the expensive GPS collar? These are contingencies and procedures that must be covered in a field investigatory protocol so there is consistency and trust in the information collected by all field investigators. Melanie Culver Ph.D. is doing a $71,000.00+ scat study on Kofa NWR and all of the DNA evidence possible from the 2 dead Kofa cougars could help answer important biological and genetics related questions by further investigating the credibility of a Yuma Puma subspecies. I am assuming that DNA samples were taken from these cougars.
Finally, my criticisms of former colleagues and others may appear vindictive and sometimes overwrought. The AGFD and the USFWS have abrogated scientific ethics and governmental transparency because of hubristic and biased philosophies. I have tried to expose what I could in the fairest, although very direct, manner possible. Public servants must be held accountable for their actions. This is not occurring with the Department and the Service staffs involved in wildlife management of Kofa NWR. Instead of facing accountability and possible censure, some of the people who have erred through deceitful practices have instead been promoted in job status through an end justifies the biased means fashion at the denigration of scientific codes of ethics. As a member of the public, I am limited with my options to achieve redress of the agencies’ misdeeds; however, I will endeavor to continue seeking fairness and transparency in ethical biodiversity management of Kofa NWR. I request that others do what they can to ensure the agencies’ adherence to oaths of office, ethical codes, and the use of sound scientific practices and principles.
The following page has chronological links to important newspaper articles (and the readers’ comments for 2008 ) associated with Kofa NWR cougar issues. Along with links in the timeline, this should provide the background needed to make reasoned and informed comments during the scoping process.
Newspaper Articles Associated with the Kofa NWR Timeline of Cougar Research, Collaring, Plans, Depredations, and the Moratorium