Groups Blast Game & Fish Cougar Killing Project
March 6, 2002: Today, a coalition of animal protection and conservation organizations including the Animal Defense League of Arizona, The Fund for Animals, Humane Society of the United States, Mountain Lion Foundation, Forest Guardians, the Animal Protection Institute, and Animal Protection of New Mexico condemned U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) decision to allow the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) to proceed with killing 75 percent of the cougar population (up to 36 cougars) over the next three years in and near the Four Peaks Wilderness Area on the Tonto National Forest. The FWS erroneously concluded, on January 31, that the project would have no significant impact on the environment. The public was not advised of this decision until March 1.
The project, initially approved by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission in 1999, is intended to study the impact of cougar killing on a reintroduced bighorn sheep population. The AGFD's own data, however, indicate that the bighorn population is increasing, that drought and disease (introduced by domestic sheep) were the primary factors contributing to the decline of the bighorn population from 1994-1998, and that cougars in the study area eat far more deer, rabbits, and javelina than bighorn. Of 15 radio-collared bighorn sheep in the study area, some of whom have been collared and monitored since June of 2000, only three have died. According to the AGFD, two were killed by cougars, but at least one had a massive infection that probably made him an easier target.
"The AGFD's own data make it clear that cougars are low on the list of factors contributing to the past decline in the bighorn population," states D.J. Schubert, a wildlife biologist representing the Animal Defense League of Arizona, The Fund for Animals, and other groups involved in this controversy. "Not only is this project unnecessary and wasteful, but it has no scientific merit. It is nothing more than predator control poorly disguised as scientific research," adds Schubert.
The project is funded with $220,000 in federal aid funds from the FWS and with $150,000 from the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society (ADBSS) -- a group dedicated to bighorn hunting.
The project has been roundly criticized by the public, several AGFD biologists (who have elected to remain anonymous to protect their jobs), and former AGFD officials. Both Harley Shaw, a longtime AGFD biologist who is now retired and Steve Gallizioli, the AGFD's former research chief, have condemned the "experiment" as being unnecessary and having no scientific merit. Many believe the study, if implemented, will produce no meaningful data since it is impossible to distinguish between the many factors (i.e., climate, vegetation production, predation, disease) that may affect bighorns. The project was opposed by the vast majority of individuals and organizations that submitted comments on a draft assessment prepared by the AGFD.
"The FWS and AGFD have ignored critical input from scientists and the will of the public in allowing this project to go forward," asserts Lynn Sadler, Executive Director of the Mountain Lion Foundation. "This ill-conceived project is not only being pursued solely to satisfy the anti-predator bias of the AGFD and Commission and to placate the bighorn hunting interests of the ADBSS, but it will not provide any meaningful data on predator-prey relationship between cougars and bighorn. The project should be terminated immediately to prevent the waste of cougars, money, time, and effort inherent to this plan," adds Sadler.
The animal protection/conservation coalition is examining all its options, including litigation in federal and state court, to stop this ill-conceived and scientifically corrupt project. For additional information about the project CLICK HERE.
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