Monday, October 19, 2009

Arizona: Jaguar-tracking data hard to come by from Game and Fish

Published: 10.18.2009

By Tony Davis

The Arizona Game and Fish Department paid a nonprofit group about $65,000 to gather information about jaguars in the past five years, but hasn't gotten raw data to show for it.

The Arizona Daily Star has made separate requests under the Arizona Public Records Act for two kinds of information about the behavior of jaguar Macho B in the wild. One is for data indicating the specific locations where the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project took pictures of the since-deceased Macho B and other jaguars in the wild in Southern Arizona.

The other is for satellite-transmitted data showing when and where Macho B traveled during the 12 days he wore a radio collar in late February and early March following his Feb. 18 capture.

This information is important to help authorities and the public understand where jaguars live and what areas should be protected in their name, according to a critic of the state agency.

In reply, the agency has said two things: originally, that it didn't have such data, and later, that it had already given it to the Star.
In both cases, the Star was seeking precise locations of the jaguar, stated as geographic coordinates, to help with map-making and other purposes. For the radio-tracking data, the paper also sought an electronic chart of the data showing the dates, times and coordinates of where the jaguar had traveled.

The state agency had originally given the Star 18 of the 85 photos that the jaguar detection group had taken of jaguars through 2008. It also sent the paper a map made by the jaguar detection group indicating where the satellite data showed the animal had traveled while collared.

But in explaining why Game and Fish couldn't give the paper the actual radio collar data, the agency's Marty Fabritz wrote the Star last March that, "The keepers of all the data is the BJDP. Borderland Jaguar Detection Program (Project). They are a private entity. . . ."

The data sought by the Star should be public records, if the detection project is supported in whole or in part by Game and Fish, said Dan Barr, a Phoenix attorney for the First Amendment Coalition, a nonprofit group that represents media organizations in Arizona.
"They surely have control over it and can get a copy," Barr said of Game and Fish. "I find it incredible that the state has spent $65,000 for this information, and they're claiming they can't get control of it.

"If the governor said, 'I want a copy of this report right away,' would these people say no?" said Barr, referring to the jaguar detection project.

The jaguar detection project has been photographing jaguars — mainly but not exclusively Macho B — since 2001. It has used remote sensor cameras that record jaguars, other wild animals and, occasionally, people, as they pass by.

The cameras were placed along game trails and near water sources likely to be used by large cats, project founders Jack and Anna Childs wrote in their book, "Ambushed on the Jaguar Trail." By last year, the project had 45 to 50 camera stations in Southern Arizona, said the group's 2008 annual progress report.

Emil McCain, the department's biologist, monitored the radio collar data for Macho B during the period Macho B was in the wild up to the time of the jaguar's recapture on March 2 in the oak woodlands of Southern Arizona near the Mexican border. The jaguar was flown to Phoenix and euthanized about five hours after his recapture after veterinarians concluded that he had kidney failure.

The state agency is one of many agencies and groups that have been listed in the project's annual reports as having helped with the research, the group's 2008 annual report said.

But in that same report, the project said that location names and exact coordinates showing the jaguar's travels are withheld, as requested by Game and Fish and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the safety of the animals and their habitats. The report also said that any information contained in it is exclusive property of McCain and Jack Childs.

To a leading critic of the agency, the specific location data sought by the Star is important to help understand where the jaguar's most important movement corridors are, and which areas are worth protecting, said Sergio Avila, a biologist for the environmental group Sky Island Alliance.

Avila said department officials "have very good intentions and very wishful thinking, but no science informing their decisions."
In an e-mail to the Star last week, Game and Fish spokesman Bob Miles wrote it's his understanding that the department has already provided the Star location information from the radio collar attached to Macho B and from remote camera traps.

He added: "The information the department does have in its possession that was collected by BJDP has always met the department's need. At any time, the department could obtain the remaining information from BJDP if there developed a need for it."

But on Sept. 23, Fabritz, an ombudsman and executive staff assistant at Game and Fish, wrote the Star that he had prepared a disk containing 18 photos of jaguars, but that: "There was no location data provided with these photos. Apparently there are other photos, but that's all we have received from the BDJP."

In March, both in e-mails to the Star and in internal e-mails, Fabritz said the state agency wasn't required by law to provide the raw tracking data because it didn't have it.

"I think they (the Star) want us to be making docs for them . . . we obviously are not required," Fabritz wrote on March 24.

Contact reporter Tony Davis at 806-7746 or


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