Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Arizona refuge could open for first time to mountain lion hunters

YUMA, Ariz. -- A healthy number of mountain lions on the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Arizona has officials considering allowing people to hunt the animals.

Refuge manager Paul Cornes said there are at least five mountain lions on the refuge - enough to try to open the refuge for the first time to hunters and still sustain the animals' population.

Final federal approval is expected in October 2007, when Cornes said the season can begin.

Waiting for final approval to hunt the animals on the refuge is not the hard part, said Chris Mitchell, a member of the Yuma Valley Rod and Gun Club. It's hunting them, he said.

"Trying to get a mountain lion out here in the desert is almost impossible," Mitchell said. "It is just very hard to hunt. It is just a very elusive animal."

In the meantime, officials are researching where the mountain lions came from, how they are moving, why they are living in the refuge and what effect they may be having on other animals.

One of those animals could be big horn sheep, whose population declined by more than 50 percent from 812 in 2000 to 390 in 2006.

Cornes said it's unclear whether mountain lions or the drought are contributing the most to the sheep decline.

Hunters have been allowed to hunt mountain lions on the surrounding southwestern wildlife management area, which encompasses state and federal land spanning from Yuma to Lake Havasu to Dateland.

Only one mountain lion can be killed annually in the area, which Arizona Game and Fish Department officials say is home to at least 10 mountain lions.

Information from: The Sun,


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