Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ariz. officials kill mountain lion

FROM STAFF REPORTS
June 5, 2007 - 9:56PM

State officials killed a mountain lion north of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in attempts to prevent the further decline of the desert bighorn sheep population that has reached a historic low, according to a news release.

Arizona Game and Fish Department officials killed the mountain lion Sunday in the Plomosa-New Water Mountains north of the refuge. According to a release, officials determined lions that take more than two sheep in a six-month period are a "significant threat" to the "already seriously declining bighorn sheep herd."

The young male lion was found with two freshly killed bighorn sheep and one freshly killed mule deer. The lion had been preying on desert bighorn sheep in the Kofa Mountains and other surrounding mountain ranges for several months, according to the release.

"When added to two other known bighorn sheep kills on the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge during the past three months, these dead sheep would equal the entire annual recruitment of yearling sheep that we would expect to be produced by 25 ewes," said Larry Voyles, the regional supervisor for Arizona Game and Fish Department's southwest Arizona region.

Wildlife officials announced in November that the triennial survey of the Kofa bighorn sheep herd indicated the herd had fallen to a historic low estimate of 390 animals, representing a severe decline from the estimated 812 animals found during the 2000 survey.

"Given the declining status of the bighorn population on the Kofa, it cannot withstand the level of predation that this particular lion was exerting on the herd," Voyles said.

Officials from the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge are exploring the allowance of mountain lion hunting on the refuge in efforts to help curb the bighorn sheep decline, as previously reported in The Sun. Currently, refuge officials are court ordered to analyze the "cumulative impacts" of hunting mountain lions before moving forward, according to the refuge's Web site.

Wildlife officials had been tracking the lion through the use of satellite telemetry since February as part of efforts to restore the Kofa herd. The Kofa sheep herd was once one of the most robust herds in the nation and has been a critically important source of sheep for repopulating Arizona and other southwestern United States mountain ranges for 50 years.

Sheep transplants from the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge were suspended this year due to the severe population decline. As announced last November, wildlife experts attribute the decline to a variety of factors including drought, predation, disease factors and human disturbance.

At that time, it was estimated that at least five lions were spending enough time on the refuge to be considered "resident" lions and five different lions have, in fact, been recorded by remote cameras at water catchments on the refuge. This represents a significant change from the transient lion population that has been the historic norm for this part of Arizona.

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Sun staff Associate Editor-Assignments Jackie Leatherman contributed to this report.She can be reached at jleatherman@yumasun.com or 1-928-539-6849.

http://www.yumasun.com/news/sheep_34458___article.html/refuge_kofa.html

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