Saturday, April 08, 2006

Arizona plans to kill mountain lions to protect bighorns

Arizona plans to kill mountain lions to protect bighorns

 

By LAUNCE RAKE

Las Vegas Sun

07-APR-06

 

In a decision that has drawn the ire of environmentalists, Arizona plans to kill 10 or more mountain lions in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area to prevent them from killing desert bighorns.

 

The number of sheep in the region has dropped by at least 50 percent in recent years. Jim deVos, research branch chief for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, attributes that to the toll drought has taken on the population of the mule deer, the mountain lion's more common prey.

 

DeVos estimated that about 1,000 bighorn sheep remain in the Hoover Dam area on the Arizona side. At least seven bighorns have been killed by mountain lions since the beginning of this year.

 

"The sheep population there is one of the most important to us in Arizona for a whole bunch of reasons," deVos said. "It is the source population for reintroduction of bighorns throughout the Southwest, including Colorado, Utah and Texas."

 

Mountain lions will be caught and killed one at a time until predation is under control, he said. A start date for the program has not been set.

 

"Not every lion is killing sheep," deVos said. "We're trying to focus on known kills and trying to remove that lion that is killing sheep."

 

Daniel Patterson, a desert ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, sharply criticized the plan.

 

"This is a real mistake," Patterson said. "We're not even sure how many mountain lions might be in Lake Mead. We don't need to be killing mountain lions to protect the bighorn. We need to better manage the bighorn habitat.

 

"Lions are scarce. We don't need single species management, we need ecosystem management, and that includes pumas."

 

Frank Buono, a 33-year veteran of the National Park Service and a national board member of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said culling the mountain lions should be a last resort and should come only after extensive public discussion.

 

"We may not ultimately disagree with them doing this, but the public needs to be involved," Buono said.

 

He said that in the park service's Mojave National Preserve in California, where he served as an assistant superintendent, state trappers had to complete a public environmental assessment before taking two bighorns for restocking elsewhere.

 

A similar process should be required for Arizona's mountain lion plan, he said. Buono criticized the park service for deferring to Arizona on the plan. Roxanne Dey, a park service spokeswoman, said her agency cedes much of the authority over hunting and wildlife management issues within the recreation area to Arizona and Nevada.

 

"We are responsible for everything that happens in Lake Mead National Recreation Area," Dey said. "However, when it comes to hunting issues, we defer to the states for that responsibility. Typically, we defer to the states on hunting issues. When Congress created the park, that was part of the legislation, that the park could not interfere with hunting."

 

The 1964 law creating the Lake Mead recreation area says the interior secretary shall permit hunting "with the applicable laws and regulations of the United States and respective states." Buono said that means the park service still has oversight authority.

 

"This is a case where I have to say the park service is wrong," Buono said. "The park service has a responsibility to conserve wildlife. . . . It is quite clear, the park service holds the high ace. I am disappointed with them trying to hide behind some fictitious lack of authority."

 

Buono and Patterson suggested that the rights to hunt bighorns is propelling the plan to kill mountain lions. Patterson noted that the "tag" to hunt and kill bighorns can be auctioned for more than $100,000.

 

Arizona officials disagreed. Rory Aikens, Arizona Game and Fish spokesman, said most tags sell via a lottery for a few hundred dollars each. Of the 72 tags issued last year, three were auctioned, he said.

 

"In the entire state of Arizona, we sell less than a hundred sheep permits," deVos said. "This is not a lucrative business. It's not about money. We take very seriously the responsibility to manage wildlife. We lose money on the sheep management program." DeVos said Arizona had a lengthy, open process that culminated last year in the creation of the sheep and mountain lion management plan. He rejected arguments from the environmentalists that the state and federal agencies should have a potentially lengthy series of public hearings on the plan.

 

"If we wait, what do we risk? Time is of the essence," deVos said. "We feel the loss of 50 (percent) to 60 percent of this sheep population is a critical issue."

 

 

 

 

(Distributed by Scripps-McClatchy Western Service, http://www.shns.com.)

 

 

 

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