Yuma —Federal and state agencies are on the verge of biological malpractice in their plans to continue “lethal removals” of a small, shrinking cougar population based in Arizona’s Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, according to comments filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). A pending U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service plan would allow state game agents to shoot radio-collared mountain lions on the Kofa refuge itself in order to limit predation on prized bighorn sheep.
The PEER comments, composed with the assistance of former Kofa Refuge biologist Ron Kearns, maintain that increased take may completely eliminate the remnant cougar population on the refuge and may not benefit the bighorn –
- A pending study on the factors affecting the bighorn population will not be finished for another year. As a result, there is no scientific basis for making management decisions until the study is completed and its results analyzed;
- “In one of the first reported instances of a lion having killed a bighorn on the Kofa refuge, the sheep was ill and partially blind. The lion may have very well prevented that sick bighorn from infecting other sheep. The killing of more lions risks the elimination of a significant natural interaction that serves to prevent the spread of disease in the bighorn population”; and
- In the absence of mountain lions, other predators, such as coyotes and bobcats, may fill the void causing as much and possibly more bighorn predation.
“Sterilizing the Kofa wildlife refuge of all cougars is bad biology and even worse wildlife management,” stated Southwest PEER Director Daniel Patterson, an ecologist who helped broker a moratorium on removal of radio-collared lions. That moratorium ended this August, allowing elimination of lions linked to bighorn kills when they leave the refuge. “The Fish & Wildlife Service says that it depends on sound science but in this instance it is pushing to act without doing its scientific homework.”
Ironically, the current dispute arises as the bighorn population is on the rise. Today’s bighorn population, estimated at 436 animals, is larger than the estimated population of 390 bighorn recorded in 2006 and of the estimated 200-375 bighorn reported on the Kofa refuge from 1970-1978.
“Cougars have an important role to play in the web-of-life and in maintaining the health of bighorn herds, and they will not survive the feds’ proposed removal policy,” added Patterson. “Until these officials fully understand the role that predators play in bighorn populations, they have no business killing and removing them.”
The comment period for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife cougar removal plan ended last Friday, October 2nd.