September 15, 2009 6:02 PM
BY JAMES GILBERT, SUN STAFF WRITER
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will host a public meeting in Yuma on Wednesday evening regarding the recently released draft environmental assessment for limiting mountain lion predation of desert bighorn sheep on the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.
"It is really just an informational meeting to help people understand the issue, what we are doing and what our management options are," said Mitch Ellis, complex manager, southwest Arizona National Wildlife Refuge Complex for Fish and Wildlife. "It's part of the public process."
The meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m., will be held at the Pivot Point Conference Center, located in downtown Yuma at 200 S. Madison Ave.
For additional information, or to download a copy of the draft environmental assessment (EA), go to www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/arizona/kofa. Directions to the conference center are at www.pivotpointconferencecenter.com.
According to Ellis, the public meeting will provide a forum for sharing information and gathering public input regarding the subject.
"We are very interested to hear what people think," Ellis said. "If people have an opinion about our current planning efforts, we would like to hear from them."
The agency will also be putting on a presentation, followed by an open house meeting. Agency staff, as well as staff from the Arizona Game and Fish Department, will be available to answer questions after the presentation.
Ellis added the comment period gives all interested parties an opportunity to provide input by identifying concerns, potential impacts and possible alternatives for mountain lion management.
"We really hope people are interested in bighorn sheep conservation," Ellis said.
There will also be several displays and informational stations set up for the meeting. Comment cards will be available during the meeting or e-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
A 60-day comment period on the EA is currently under way and lasts until Oct. 2. The draft of the EA was released on Aug. 4.
The refuge contains a major portion of the largest contiguous habitat for desert bighorn sheep in southwestern Arizona and historically has been home to a population averaging 760 sheep.
The refuge has also served as the primary source of bighorn sheep for translocations to re-establish and supplement declining populations throughout Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Colorado.
The most recent survey in 2008 indicated an estimated bighorn sheep population of 436.
However, state game officials have killed three GPS-collared lions since 2007 that have been preying on bighorn sheep in the Kofa Mountains Complex.
The most recent killing was announced by state game officials in early September. The mountain lion, designated as KM04, was taken in the Eagletail Mountains about 90 miles northeast of Yuma.
The lion, a male fitted with a telemetry collar, was known to have killed 15 bighorn sheep, 11 within the predation management area, since being collared in late February.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org