Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Comment Deadline 10/2/09 for the Kofa Mountain Lion Draft EA

This is a reminder that if you wanted to write in with your comments, or at least in support of the “No Action Alternative”, Friday is the last day.

Last week Ron emailed me about a Mountain Lion and Bighorn Sheep seminar that was being aired online. It was very long, I watched only the first hour, and at the end of the first hour the second (of three) speakers wasn’t even done speaking yet! I think it was two hours total, and overall what I heard the speakers say added to my overall understanding of the area and these two species. If anyone is interested in watching it, you can find it here: http://www.azgfd.gov/video/MountainLionsBighornSheepSeminarVideo.shtml

There were issues with what the speakers said, of course. The Bighorn Sheep guy had an obvious bias against the Mountain Lions, though he attempted to be neutral. The problem is that he contradicted himself, and what the Mountain Lion speaker said in his attempt to draw a conclusion for us that the Mountain Lions were a real threat to the Bighorn Sheep population.

It was no more than I expected. Actually, there was more unbiased information in the mix than I expected, and for that I was grateful.

A recap of the notes I made that seemed worth mentioning to me, starting with the Mountain Lion talk, by Ron Thompson.

  • Lion populations are limited by food source, not by the amount of land (i.e., territories)
  • Males disperse; females allow their daughters to live within her territory
  • Mountain Lions are deer specialists. They evolved to hunt deer, but they have killed every ungulate. They will also “prey switch” in years when resources are harder to come by, such as in drought years.
  • They do not select prey based on the condition of the prey; they are as likely to hunt a healthy animal as a sick and injured animal
  • They are also scavengers.
  • There are 2 mountain lion killers employed by the state to kill mountain lions who prey on livestock in the Klondike area
  • There has been exactly 1 person killed by a mountain lion in Arizona; the mountain lion was dead of the plague, and the researcher caught the plague from the lion and died a few days later
  • Highways have a huge impact on the migration of the young males, due to the fragmentation of the habitat, and the danger they face if they attempt to cross the highways. There are many deaths of these mountain lions due to being hit by cars. It is unknown what the Border Fence (between Mexico and the U.S.) will have on the lions. (Implied: there will be an effect, it simply hasn’t been studied yet)

Oh, I should mention that he started out saying, essentially, that Mountain Lions and Bighorn Sheep were considered equally important to the AGFD, and that neither was given preference over the other. I’m really glad I wasn’t in the audience, because my laughter would have been quite rude.

This Draft EA, for example, is worded such that the title is essentially “how many mountain lions should we kill”.

The notes I took on the Bighorn Sheep talk by John Hervert (incomplete, since I did not stay up to watch the entire seminar):

  • Lambs can be born at any time of year (this is evidence, in John’s opinion, that the Bighorns are not perfectly adapted to the desert regions)
  • They are not native to North America;they came over (it is thought) about 70,000 – 100,000 years ago over the Bering Straight
  • They have a low “reproduction potential”; i.e., they mature slowly, don’t reproduce every year, and have high lamb mortality rates
  • The competition with cattle plus the disease transmission (especially from goats and sheep) killed off many bighorns in the 1900’s; Bighorns are very susceptible to diseases from domesticated “livestock”.
  • Barriers to movement will have big impact because the Bighorns are adapted to follow where the moisture (and therefore food) is.
  • With regards to the arial surveys, small groups of Bighorns are very easy to miss. In dry years, when there is less food, the Bighorns hang out in smaller groups than in years where there has been more moisture and there is more food.

And that’s about all I wrote.

What I found interesting, and what John tried to (in my opinion) gloss over is that in drought conditions, when the Bighorns population is naturally going to be lower, the conditions also mean that the surveys are much more likely to underestimate the number of sheep, simply because the groups will be smaller and harder to spot.

So these low numbers that have the hunters in such a panic and have caused them to campaign for the death of the Mountain Lions could actually be misleading. These numbers are likely to have been underestimated.

John also stated, as if it were fact, that the Bighorn Sheep population has continued to decline. This ignores the fact that the last published survey showed an increase in Sheep numbers. Inconvenient facts?

He also claimed 9 mountain lion kills in a recent year, with that being an implied (and quite large) jump from the earlier years.

This was not accurate. The truth of those numbers is that the cause of death of those Sheep were unknown. He could have accurately stated that 9 sheep were known to have been eaten by mountain lions, but not that they were known to have been killed by mountain lions.

There is that issue of Mountain Lions being scavengers, after all. If they find a dead sheep (or deer, etc), they are going to eat it.

This is incredibly significant, actually, in light of the fact that the AGFD wants to kill any Mountain Lion who has killed more than 1 Bighorn Sheep in a six month period. Yet the AGFD counts “eating” to be the same as “killing”. For a scavenger species, that’s never going to be an accurate assessment.

Seems to me that if the AGFD insists on setting these limits, they should have to have absolute proof that the Mountain Lion killed the Sheep, not just that the Mountain Lion ate the Sheep.

The other point to note is that the Mule Deer population bounces back very quickly from extreme drought situations. And that is the species that the Mountain Lions have specialized in hunting. It becomes more and more ludicrous to see the Mountain Lion as a danger to the Bighorn Sheep population, especially when it is the humans who continue to kill more Bighorn Sheep each year than the Mountain Lions.

I share these thoughts on the seminar in case it helps people to put together a comment on the Draft EA. You can find more information on the Draft EA in this earlier post, including the email address where the comments should be sent.

And for those of you who are hoping for an update on the piglets who arrived at Poplar Spring last weekend, I will hopefully have something tomorrow!

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7 responses to “Comment Deadline 10/2/09 for the Kofa Mountain Lion Draft EA

  1. Ron Kearns September 29, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    Deb,

    Thank you for taking time out of your full schedule to comment on the AGFD video and for reminding people of Friday’s deadline for the Draft EA (Oct 2, 2009)

    You covered the highlights of what you viewed very well. I viewed the full 2 hours, I will be reviewing the video in detail, and I have a lot to counter.

    To the other readers—as Deb mentioned—you do not need to write long DEA comments because the agencies disingenuously skewed the Draft toward the continued killing of mountain lions, period. Therefore, if nothing else, please consider sending your e-mail comments simply expressing your support for

    Alternative A (No Action)

    As things stand now—sans a future lawsuit—the No Action Alternative A will save the largest numbers of Kofa lions. The AGFD will still collar and then kill Kofa lions once they leave the safety of the refuge; however, as it is now before the EA, no one will be allowed to kill a lion within the 665,400 acres (1040 square miles) of Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. Those lions that avoid being snared and collared can live free as long as they are within the refuge. Collared lions will definitely be killed off-refuge, although they will still have the opportunity to breed and fulfill their niche for several more months of their lives.

    All of this frustrates me because the AGFD is persistently intolerant of all predators—and most especially mountain lions. The best we can do is keeping Kofa NWR a safe haven for lions and work to prevent the USFWS from allowing capturing/collaring of any Kofa lions whatsoever if the collaring is used to track and shoot research subjects.

  2. Deb October 1, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    I have submitted my comment. (Almost last minute!)

  3. Ron Kearns October 1, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Thanks Deb! The AZ Chapter of the Sierra Club sent out an Action Alert suggesting that people support Alternative A (No Action).

    Regards,
    Ron

  4. Deb October 2, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    Ron, that’s good news! I hope the Sierra Club inspires some of those people to action!

  5. Mary Martin October 3, 2009 at 6:23 am

    I forgot to tell you I left a comment, just in the nick of time! I *see* your October 1 and *raise* you 24 hours!

  6. Ron Kearns October 3, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Thanks again Deb, Mary, and to others who submitted comments. I know that life gets too busy and that it takes extra effort to find the time—or the inclination—to correspond with State and Federal bureaucracies. However, public input is critical to the process and the only way to effect change. As a former public servant, I know that there are still people in government who listen and are dedicated to serving the public who employ them.

    I think the important point to remember in the NEPA process is that all the comments go into the public record. Then if there is ever a lawsuit, relevant comments become part of the administrative record that a FWS or other Federal official must submit with a declaration that—under the penalty of perjury—the foregoing (admin record) is true and correct.

  7. Deb October 3, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    @mary – thanks! 🙂

    @ron – the point about the public record and possible future lawsuits was one of my main motivations for submitting a comment. It is frustrating knowing that it might not have an impact at the moment, but then again, thinking about how a comment now might help later, well, can’t hurt to try!

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