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On the Saving of Individuals

Deb Durant and I have written (her far better than I) about the mountain lions at the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona for months, and I’d like to ask everyone a favor.

I talk a lot about seeing animals as individuals who have an interest in their own lives, free from the domination and torment (to say nothing of the slaughter) that occurs when we humans find a use for them or decide that they’re in our way.

We have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of, at most, a handful of mountain lions at Kofa. That difference, for them, is that between life and death, as the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) has decided the cougars (/pumas/mountain lions) should being collared and killed ("lethally removed") because the population of bighorn sheep is lower than it was in 2000, yet higher than it was last year. (Yes, you read that right.)

If you’re thinking that it makes no sense to vilify and kill natural predators, particularly when their prey population has actually increased, and you must be missing something, you indeed are missing something: that tags for the hunting of bighorn sheep are a source of revenue for the AGFD, so they want to have as many bighorn sheep on the Kofa NWR as possible . . . . so people can kill them. You don’t see AGFD calling for a decrease in people killing mountain lions. . . .


2008 season will commence on December 1, 2008, and run through the
month.  The results of the 2007 season are available in the January
2008 monthly update.


Mountain lions–the natural predators of the sheep–are being blamed for the fact that there are fewer sheep than in 2000, yet more than in 2006, yet there are myriad other reasons for sheep population decline and/or mortality. The report prepared by the Kofa NWR and the AGFD describes other factors, including:

  • Population response to drought
  • Water availability
  • Biological considerations (they are slow to recover, as a species, anyway)
  • Disease
  • Human disturbance
  • Translocations (to reestablish populations elsewhere)
  • Hunting ("Hunter success rates have averaged 89% for bighorn sheep on the Kofa over the last 20 years"-p. 19).

The Yuma Sun article Deb referenced a couple of days ago has a lively comments section and you can "Recommend" the article as well as individual comments. Please, at least do that (I did!). You’ll find that even hunter Daniel Patterson agrees that the slaughter of mountain lions at Kofa is unethical. He writes:

The real problem here is the unethical tactics of AZ Game & Fish using GPS collars not for real research, but to track and kill rare low desert pumas. I’m a hunter and most other hunters will agree it is unethical to use GPS collars to track and kill pumas.

Bighorn populations on the Kofa are going up — something AGFD seems to not want to talk about. Between 06 and 07, the agencies estimate the bighorn population went up significantly from 392 to 460 animals. We should all be glad the bighorn population is going up, and the gov’t should be honest about it.

The Kofa is a National Wildlife Refuge that needs ecosystem management, not single-species bighorn game farm management.

And now for that favor I was talking about . . . Please read letter from the US Department of the Interior regarding this issue. There is a "scoping period," which basically is a window for providing input that began on April 24 and will close on May 24. Please either send an e-mail to or send a letter expressing your thoughts and feelings over this situation, and specifically saying that there is no need to kill the "offending" pumas (not to mention it’s unethical) to:

US Fish and Wildlife Service
Southwest Arizona National Wildlife Refuge Complex
356 West 1st Street
Yuma, AZ 85364

The "Project Description" on the last page of the letter states it:

"is to allow for the limited removal, by government agents, of individual lions identified as regularly preying on sheep. The lethal removal of ‘offending lions’ in order to recover and manage bighorn sheep would be used when population levels of sheep fall below an identified threshold. A mountain lion would be considered an ‘offending lion’ if it preyed on more than one sheep in a six month period."

Lethal removal. Offending lion. More than one sheep in six months. And hunting season has not been affected.

Please write and save a handful of individuals in Arizona.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ron Kearns #


    I appreciate your coverage of the Kofa mountain lion management plan EA process. This is an opportune time for Animal Rights advocates to save the lives of wildlife on Kofa NWR. The agencies had been writing and talking about an EA for about a year and killed 2 free and wild GPS-collared cougars during that period. After pleading with the wildlife managers to stop the killing, the threat of a lawsuit was the only way to gain the current year-long moratorium on lethal removal of Kofa collared cougars. The cougars are safe until the completion of the EA. Your readers could request the alternative that cougars must not be subject to killing for whatever reason. The following is my recommendation and the agencies must consider all other reasonable recommendations.

    Founded on discussions with ecologists, biologists, and others who employ logical and critical thinking skills, I recommend that if annual aerial Kofa NWR bighorn surveys demonstrate a population increase in bighorn, then cougars must not be GPS-collared and managed for depredation. That strategy is the most parsimonious and equitable alternative to manage for as close to complete biodiversity management as possible without intruding into the freedom exemplified by the concept of wildlife existing on wildlands.

    Thanks again,
    Ron Kearns

    April 29, 2008
  2. Ron,

    This is probably a bit over-the-top for you, but here's the letter I sent . . .


    I am writing to urge you to stop the lethal removal of (i.e., the killing of) cougars at the Kofa NWR. I have done quite a bit of research, and I find that your own documents demonstrate that not only is it highly improbable that the bighorn sheep population has dropped from previous years' numbers (though increased in the last survey, which makes all of this doubly suspect) because of the mountain lions.

    Your own Project Description appears quite the farce, considering the myriad other factors that negatively impact the bighorn population and the reality that hunting season for 2008 will not be affected. If the population of bighorn sheep were really the priority, hunting season would indeed be affected.

    To collar cougars, which is tantamount to handing them a death sentence, and then track and kill them for being who they are–predators–is unethical and unreasonable and must be stopped.


    Mary Martin, Ph.D.

    April 29, 2008
  3. Ron Kearns #

    Mary Martin Ph.D.,

    A principal compelling reason for my visits to your site, in addition to gaining informed perspectives, is your superb writing style. Furthermore, I gain other benefits from your ‘deconstructions’ of the AGFD and USFWS’ illogical, unethical, contradictory, and inconsistent language associated with the agencies’ wildlife management policies.

    Your letter was just fine.

    Regarding another section of your post, here is an excellent 3D-like Color Flow Chart of the EA process entitled ‘NEPA Decision Making’ that illustrates the flow from the initial stages of the Proposed Federal Action, Scoping, EA, FONSI, and Implementation. There are detours, as needed, based on *comments* and evidence presented by members of the public.

    Thanks for this link go to a seasoned, respected Ph.D. who has striven to ensure science-based decision-making in all aspects of governmental and public life throughout a lifelong career in the environmental field.

    Ron Kearns

    April 29, 2008
  4. Deb #

    Thanks for posting about this Mary, and thanks for writing a letter!

    One of the things that is amazing to me about this "formal scoping period" is that they are essentially required to respond to our arguments. We know they'll try to blow us off (er, refute our arguments), but they basically have to pay us some attention, no matter how painful it must be for them.

    I'm someone who feels like voting in elections is likely absolutely pointless (which is probably why I've missed so many voting opportunities by forgetting to register to vote), and yet this is a time when we have a pretty direct voice in decisions the government is making.

    It is so important to do as you did, and a) propose an alternative and b) point out how faulty their logic is and has been in their justifications for the killing of the mountain lions.

    April 29, 2008
  5. kim #

    It's some of the same BS the Canadians give as to why they must kill baby seals – that seals are depleting the fish stocks. Umm, yeah, that's it.

    April 30, 2008

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