Saturday, March 13, 2004
contact: Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist, Center for Biological Diversity, 520.623.5252 x306 or 520.906.2159
TUCSON -- In an earlier case where the Arizona Game & Fish Dept. (AGFD) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) killed cougars without evidence or trying other options, eight public-interest organizations, including CBD, reached a settlement this week with the federal government in a lawsuit challenging the killing of mountain lions in the Four Peaks Wilderness Area of the Tonto National Forest.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Wilderness Act, and other laws by authorizing, assisting, and funding the Arizona Game and Fish Department's project to kill mountain lions essentially to "study" the impact of those killings on the bighorn sheep population.
On the Sabino Canyon issue, Arizonans packed inside and outside of the Game and Fish Commission hearing today in Tucson, with most speaking out strongly against the cougar hunt. Many also spoke in strong support of the Tumacacori Wilderness proposal and the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. On Thursday, Several hundred people protested the lion hunt yesterday in downtown Tucson at the CNF headquarters.
In the Four Peaks Wilderness, despite the knowledge that mountain lion predation is a minor factor related to bighorn sheep survival -- livestock grazing, habitat loss & fragmentation, and drought are much more significant -- the three-year, federally-funded AGFD project sought to kill 75% of the cougars within the study area.
"USFS & AGFD killed cougars in the Four Peaks Wilderness without solid evidence or trying other options, and they are now repeating the same outrageous mistake at Sabino Canyon," said Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist with CBD in Tucson. "The government's deadly, out-of-control cougar policy must stop now. Pumas are essential to ecosystem health, and people need to learn to live with them, especially in the urban sprawl wildlands interface areas."
"The frivolous and wanton killing of mountain lions, especially with cruel methods such as snaring and hound hunting, is appalling to Arizonans and is a fleecing of public funds," said Michael Markarian, President of The Fund for Animals.
CBD received another call Friday from the people in Sabino Canyon working protect the cougars through non-violent interference with this rushed and unjustified hunt. They reported witnessing a lot of government activity in the canyon, and believe the hunt is on. They say they'll remain in the canyon in resistance until the hunt is stopped.
Government officials have failed to show that lions in Sabino Canyon are likely to attack humans. A report released to CBD Tuesday night by CNF showed only 2 of 15 (13%) reported lion sightings on at Sabino Canyon confirmed since 2002, only 1 of 7 (14%) reports was confirmed on nearby private lands during the same period. This report does not confirm recent stalking of humans by lions, as has been claimed by officials. Recent alleged sightings reported on TV news are unconfirmed, and biologists know that most lion sighting reports are inaccurate.
Ignoring strong concern, questions and opposition from Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, Congressman Raul M. Grijalva and the public, new Coronado NF (CNF) Supervisor Derby and AZ Game & Fish (AGFD) Director Shroufe continue to rush today to kill cougars at Sabino Canyon, and still refuse to try on non-lethal options.
"The government is rushing to kill these lions, without solid evidence, and without first trying other options such as trail restrictions, closures and hazing," said Daniel R. Patterson, CBD Desert Ecologist. "This is an outrageous, shameful decision driven by lawyers in Washington and Phoenix that sets a dangerous precedent for wildlife killing on our public lands. Wildlife is a part of our American natural heritage, not a liability."
Ironically, AGFD refused to support a recent bill in the Arizona legislature to remove wildlife related government liability.
"Even if these cougars are killed, more will move in to the area. With this deadly approach, it's likely future cougars will also be killed," says Patterson. "If the government succeeds, Sabino Canyon will change from some of Tucson's best lion habitat to a lion killing zone. Sabino Canyon is a wild area, not a city park or Disneyland, and it shouldn't be managed this way."
USFS and AGFD have refused a request to inform the public on hunt progress.
Environmentalists point out that if left alone, pumas pushed in to area by the Aspen fire may soon move up the canyon and away from people due to warmer weather.
Relocation of mountain lions is not a viable option, and wildlife managers have said if the lions are located they will be killed.
Sabino Canyon is now a controversial fee-demo area, and CNF benefits financially from its maximum use by people.
A copy of the lawsuit settlement is available online at www.fund.org/uploads/MountainLionSettlement.pdf