Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

March 22, 2004

Conservation groups propose moving cougars farther up mountain, away from people.

AGFD admits moving adult cougars to captivity doesn’t work.

Army helicopter in Sabino Canyon this morning.

AGFD & USFS still have not shown good evidence of threat, or tried other options.

Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist, CBD 520.623.5252 x306
Craig Miller, Southwest Director, Defenders of Wildlife 520.623.9653 x1

TUCSON -- The Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife are offering a ‘win-win’ solution to the Arizona Game & Fish Department and the U.S. Forest Service: move the Sabino Canyon cougars up the mountain away from people, and consider GPS collars to track movement and collect data.

An Army National Guard helicopter was seen this morning in Sabino Canyon.

The Center and Defenders are asking AGFD and USFS to hold off on the hunt until they can meet with AGFD Director Duane Shroufe later this week to discuss the compromise offer.

“We appreciate the significance of the government considering other approaches, but moving pumas to captivity won’t work and they know it,” said Daniel R. Patterson, CBD Desert Ecologist. “The government still has not shown solid evidence that these cougars are a threat to anyone. We are not convinced the lions need to be moved anywhere, but our proposal offers relief to the government’s concerns, and would let the cougars stay in their native habitat.”

When questioned at a public meeting Friday, Arizona Game & Fish Deputy Director Steve Ferrell admitted he knew of no examples where adult cougars had been successfully moved to captivity.

Government officials still have not shown good evidence that lions in Sabino Canyon are likely to attack humans. A March 12 AGFD report obtained by CBD showed only 1 of 36 (2.8%) reported potential lion sightings in or near Sabino Canyon confirmed since 2002, and only 3 of 36 (8.3%) as possibly confirmed. This report does not confirm recent stalking of humans by lions, as has been claimed by officials. An earlier report from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) was very similar. Recent alleged sightings reported by the media are unconfirmed, and biologists know that most lion sighting reports from the public are inaccurate.

There are other easier, safer and less expensive solutions besides capture or killing.

“We will get houndsmen to come out and track the lion to its day bed or denning area, then chase the lion out of the vicinity. Typically, that works pretty well. The lion won’t come back after harassing behavior,” said Steve Nadeau of Idaho Fish & Game, describing cougar management in the urban-wildlife interface around Boise, in the Arizona Daily Star, March 11.

“Conservationists are very concerned with public safety. I personally have a small child and we visit Sabino Canyon and other Arizona wildlands often,” said Patterson. “But the public is entitled to detailed facts and detailed evidence, and Thursday’s report that school cafeteria workers saw a lion cannot be considered confirmed based on the weak evidence provided. Reports of ‘half a footprint’ leave us very skeptical, but even in the unlikely event it was a cougar, the animal left the area and no one was stalked or threatened.”

Governor Janet Napolitano, Congressman Raul Grijalva, 27 state lawmakers and others have joined a huge public outcry against the Sabino Canyon puma hunt.

“Even if these cougars are moved to captivity, they will likely die, and more will move in to the great Sabino Canyon habitat. Given the approach of AGFD and USFS, its likely future cougars will suffer the same fate,” says Patterson. “If the government succeeds, Sabino Canyon will change from some of Tucson’s best cougar habitat to a trap. Sabino Canyon is a wild area, not a city park or Disneyland, and it shouldn’t be managed this way. This is not a long-term solution.”

In a meeting held March 15, AGFD Directors and Commissioners expressed concerns over the costs of translocating vs. shooting the cougars. In response, Defenders offered to pay helicopter costs and provide radio-collars, telemetry equipment and trained technicians to assist the Department inmonitoring the cougars upon translocation to the wild to obtain better information to help avoid future conflicts.Despite having support from scientists, conservationists and the regional public, AGFD rejected the proposalstating that it didn’t conform to their self-imposed guidelines.

Environmentalists point out that if left alone, pumas pushed in to area by the Aspen fire may soon move up the mountain as their animal prey seek new spring vegetation. A legal settlement reached March 11 showed AGFD and USFS killed cougars before without evidence or exploring other options or causes of conflicts.

Conservationists are ready to work with AGFD and USFS on liability issues, wildlife feeding, and urban planning.

Sabino Canyon is a controversial fee-demo area, and the Coronado National Forest benefits financially from its maximum use by people.


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