Thursday, February 11, 2010

Moving The CougarBlog

I've been using Blogger to build and publish my blog, but rather than use their servers for hosting I have been using FTP to publish the blogs on my own site (The AndyZone). Recently, Blogger has decided that they are investing too many resources into maintaining FTP so they are ending that service as of March 31, of this year. Rather than surrender my content to their servers, I am switching to Wordpress and continuing to host the blogs on my own site. This notice will be the last entry made at this address.

To make WordPress work with my site, I had to make a small change in the blog's URL. This blog's new address will be: http://www.theandyzone.com/cougarblog/. Please bookmark the new address.

Thank you for your patronage.

Andy

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The KOFA Story Continues

Two months ago, my wife and I bought a light-sport aircraft in California and flew it back through Arizona and New Mexico to its new home in Texas. On the morning of the second day of our journey eastward, as we flew toward Phoenix and over the olive drab, sharp peaks of a cluster of Arizona mountains, I noticed we were flying through the northern part of the KOFA National Wildlife Refuge. Below were the bighorn sheep herds and the five mountain lions that were being painted as a catastrophic threat to them. I was happy to be able to see the place, though time and circumstance prevented me from exploring the lands on foot. I’ll have to go back there one day to prowl it on foot.

KOFA continues to suffer from the unethical conduct of Arizona Fish and Game. They continue to follow mountain lions collared within the peaceful confines of the refuge and use what are supposed to be research-related tools to shoot the lions once they step onto state of Arizona soil. They are conducting nothing less than a state-sanctioned and camouflaged hunt held in the name of protecting the bighorn herds. The reality is that the small population of mountain lions are the ones threatened with extinction, all in the name of giving the bighorns the edge, even though there is no science to back such a wildlife management approach. No one understands why the bighorn sheep population in Kofa has taken a hit but the lions are being blamed as they always are when some human political agenda is at work.

I wish I could say I was amazed at how state wildlife agencies seem to put politics ahead of wildlife management practices, but I see it all the time. Part of the problem is a backward view of our role in protecting ecosystems; we see them as things we can exploit instead of part of the very environment that nurtures us. This is a tremendous problem at the state level especially in areas where old world ranching and farming attitudes persist and they drive a large political block within the state. That’s true in Arizona and in Texas, though the increasing political pull of the cities here are slowly changing things. (A little too slow, if you ask me, but at least there is some hope.) I have sometimes seen a change in ranching attitudes on individual scales; one rancher in Idaho presented a calculation to a meeting of the state game commission that showed how lions on his property saved him money by decreasing the deer population that ate his hay. He forbids hunters taking lions on his property. But change is slow; too many state and even federal wildlife management managers still maintain attitudes that might have been appropriate for the late eighteen hundreds or the decades in the early twentieth-century where any predator was bad news. Hopefully, they will die off and be replaced by managers who understand the value of entire ecosystems and use science and not politics as their management tool.

For me, that time cannot come fast enough.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

TP&WD: Cougars, Lies, and Websites

The idealist inside me still likes to think that state wildlife agencies really do look after the states’ resources and protect and preserve all the wildlife in the state. The realist inside me knows this rarely happens, and that many state wildlife agencies are little more than political hacks that often cater to the wishes of hunting and ranching interests. Both those interests deserve to be protected, but not at the expense of the state’s charge to protect wild the resources within its boundaries.

At the very least, one would hope that state wildlife agencies would hold to the truth concerning wildlife and their management for the sake of the children of the state who will take what they are told as gospel. But my experience with TP&WD has shown that when it comes to cougars the truth will sometimes be whatever is politically expedient. I often wonder if they don’t need to change their name from “Texas Parks and Wildlife” to “Texas Perks and Wildlife”, since the directorship often seems to come from the presiding Governor’s political backers and whose sole interest seems to lie in preserving their ability to hunt what they want when they want to.

But that’s an issue for another day. Let’s go back to talking about TP&WD’s scientific credibility or, actually, their lack thereof. Take, for example, this quote on TP&WD’s web pages in the “Nuisance Wildlife” section about cougars. It’s at the end of the first paragraph: “Other states have become more restrictive in their regulations, making it difficult to manage expanding predator populations and an increase in human injury has occurred.”

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a pathetic attempt to justify Texas’ long standing tradition of classifying cougars as “nuisance wildlife”, which used to be the official classification until TP&WD was confronted by the Sierra Club some years back and TP&WD changed the classification to “non-game”. In either case, what it means is that Texas does not regulate mountain lion hunting in any sense; they may be killed for any reason at any time, including whether someone wants to kill one just for jollies. More importantly, there is NO SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE that justifies such a conclusion; this is a carry over from a myth that the hunting community has often tried to use to justify their own habits, i.e., that sport hunting keeps lion populations down and protects the public. (As if mountain lions can talk to each other about “how the human hunters are increasing” and “we need to stay away from all humans”. If you believe that, you might want to first stop watching so many cartoons.) In fact, in 2005, the Cougar Management Guidelines Working Group stated that “there is no evidence that sport hunting actually reduces mountain lion-human conflicts”.

Most experts agree that any increase in conflicts is usually due to increasing human encroachment on mountain lion habitat, a fact that is even referred to by TP&WD’s own brochure on mountain lions, which is actually pretty good. Concerning this subject, it states:

“Despite reports of mountain lion attacks on people in California, mountain lion attacks are rare. Only four attacks on humans in Texas have been reported since 1980, all of them in remote areas of West Texas. From 1890–2001, there were 98 attacks across the U.S. and Canada, 17 of those were fatal. Cougar attacks have increased during the past few decades but are still much rarer than other hazards from animals or nature. For example, dogs annually kill 18–20 people and inflict suture-requiring injuries on 200,000 U.S. residents. Increases in cougar attacks are probably due to increases in their numbers and more people using wildlands and building residences in areas where mountain lions live.”


So, how is it that TP&WD manages to capture the situation accurately in its brochure (above) but then manages to publish such mythology on its website? Obviously, there were two different authors, i.e., one who had the picture and one who didn’t.

To prove that, let’s look at the number of mountain lion attacks that have occurred in California since that state banned sport hunting of mountain lions. The law was passed in 1990. Here’s a table showing the number of mountain lion attacks that occurred in the state. The attacks include those that were fatal.

Year--Number of attacks (California)
  1. 1990--0
  2. 1991--0
  3. 1992--1
  4. 1993--2
  5. 1994--3
  6. 1995--1
  7. 1996--0
  8. 1997--0
  9. 1998--0
  10. 1999--0
  11. 2000--0
  12. 2001--0
  13. 2002--0
  14. 2003--0
  15. 2004--3
  16. 2005--0
  17. 2006--0
  18. 2007--1

If I disregard other factors (increase in human populations, decrease in mountain lion habitat), it’s hard to argue that the law caused an increase in human injury because of the two years of no injuries immediately after the law’s passage and the recurring multiple years of no injuries. Across a seventeen span, this averages out to .6 attacks/year or about one attack every two years. Without or without sport hunting, that’s not an unexpected number considering the close proximity of people to cougar habitat there.

See what I mean?

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Thank God for PEER!

One of the gifts of writing about the Arizona mountain lion controversy has been my introduction to PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. From their webpage, “Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local, state, and federal resource professionals”. The organization’s purpose is truly unique in that it “supports those who are courageous and idealistic enough to seek a higher standard of environmental ethics and scientific integrity within their agency”. In other words, this is an organization of current or past civil servants who are attempting to hold environmentally related government agencies feet to the fire. In other words, these are not regular “cilly servants” as I jokingly refer to them but the “Supermen of Civil Servants”. They are, at personal and perhaps professional risk, working to ensure that our wildlife and environmental agencies do what they are supposed to do.

Do you understand how great that is? At the same time, do you understand how sad it is they even need to exist?

It was PEER that was behind the recent and, sadly, probably temporary halt to the unethical mountain lion killings in the Kofa Mountains by agents of the Arizona Fish and Game Department.

Interestingly, for their trouble, they caught a lot of public wrath via comments placed in some Arizona newspapers by people who probably have never even seen a mountain lion, much less studied or handled one. These are largely the “only good mountain lion is a dead mountain lion” narcissists, the people who want what they want and to hell with the rest of ya. They are the people who can’t see past their own noses, much less take a glimpse at a much larger picture. Unfortunately, the people who do understand the good that PEER is doing (and every taxpayer needs to get behind them because, if they’re successful, they will ensure that we all get what we were supposed to for our tax dollars) were and are grossly outnumbered.

It’s a sad truth that these days of fast-moving technologies do not always ensure the spread of enlightenment.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

One Step Forward But Two Steps Back

It’s nice but rare when mountain lions get a break, but that is what has just happened for the small band of lions remaining in Arizona’s Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. The infamous Arizona Game and Fish Department, which had been abusing the sanctity of the Federal Wildlife Refuge to fit mountain lions with GPS collars then used to pinpoint the lion for execution once they wondered out of the refuge, has agreed to halt its culling while the National Wildlife Refuge finally works out a mountain lion management plan.

I hope this has happened because the management at the refuge, run by the US Fish and Wildlife Services, finally got a backbone. I’d like to think they realized their charter is to manage all wildlife. But I suspect the real reason has more to do with avoiding a public spectacle, if not a downright outcry, at the unethical and irresponsible tact they were taking. Maybe the recent mountain lions kills were enough to get somebody’s political back scratched. I just don’t know.

What I do know is that the attitude of Arizona Game and Fish is biased strongly toward preservation of the bighorn sheep, and that the fate of the mountain lion weighs little on their minds. I suspect there is some political ground they are trying protect, too, since they had been a prime supplier of bighorn sheep to other bighorn sheep recovery efforts. In any case, all you’ve got to do is read their webpage on predation management to see where they are. (Click here.) Frankly, the agency really needs to change its name to the Arizona Bighorn Sheep and Fish department, though I doubt if they’d stand for long with their new acronym (ABS&F).

A week or so go, you probably saw how a mountain lion running free in the Chicago area made the news. None of the articles referred to animal control departments or state wildlife agencies being called in to anesthetize the animal either for relocation or study, so I must assume that the police’s reactions were to shoot first and ask questions later, kinda like AGFD. Indeed, I am not underestimating the threat the puma may have ultimately been to the area’s children; but, in all likelihood, it was a captive release and somewhat used to people and less of a threat that the multitude of shots the police made when trying to kill it. (South Dakota officials, though, are speculating the cat came from the Black Hills.) But then, most people have no experience with mountain lions and know only of them how they are portrayed in the media, and that automatically makes them afraid. That’s too bad. It does the universe a disservice.

I’m beginning to wonder if mountain lions aren’t making a quiet comeback in areas where we typically don’t think of them. I’m not basing that on the Chicago area report, but on two reports of sightings I’ve received from areas in close proximity to Houston. One near Katy was very detailed and led me to believe that the cat might have been a transient on his way east, since there was a ravine in the area that shielded him from a nearby subdivision. The other was from a friend of mine whose family has a farm up near Palestine, and it was a sighting of a lion crossing a field as it followed some deer. I think it’s great if the cats are coming back, but the problem is that, if that is happening, we need to educate a lot more of the everyday populace about the lion’s value and how to act when around them. To promote them as kitty cats will, in the end, do just as much damage as promoting them as opportunistic killers who will kill people on sight. This website is an attempt to do what I can to further that goal; but, to make peaceful coexistence with mountain lions a reality in Texas (or anywhere there is a “shoot ‘em first” mentality), I’m going to need a lot more help.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Jaguar Interruptus

Earlier this year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service decided that developing a jaguar recovery plan was just too much work. The few sightings of jaguars in Arizona proved that the jags were from Mexico, and therefore there was no viable population in the United States to develop. Yet, this is exactly what the Endangered Species Act as well as scientifically sound reintroduction programs are exactly about. What USFWS is saying just doesn’t make any sense until you understand that, once again, the policy was developed to meet human political needs, regardless of its impact on wildlife.

If USFWS had decided otherwise, it would not only have had to dedicate resources to a task it has been reluctant to do for almost a decade; but it would have run “head-to-head” into the Department of Homeland Security and its crazy idea of fortifying the southern American border by building a fence. Indeed, one of the unfortunate yet totally unstudied aspects of the border fence is its impact on wildlife. Such an impact is not limited to Arizona but exists wherever a state in this great country brushes up against the Mexican border. Big Bend National Park’s bear population is a great example of cross-border movement; for many years, there were no bears in the park but they showed up again in the early to mid nineties after venturing back from Mexico. Today, even though the bear population swells and recedes based on conditions both in the park and its southern neighbor, dealing with bear boxes is a fact of life for the camper almost anywhere in the park. The park just never knows where the bears are going to be or how many of them there are.

This same type of movement can be expected of the jaguar. While conditions in Mexico have been more favorable for a breeding population there than here, there is no way the USFWS can know whether that might change. Therefore, if the population or parts of it did move north, having a recovery plan in place to possibly enable the re-establishment of a US population seems like a wise thing to pursue. But, of course, by taking the stand they have, USFWS has not only dodged the legal and ethical entanglements they might face with the border fence, but they have ensured that a jaguar population will not re-establish itself here, making for more “feet-up” time back in the office. What bureaucrat would not want that?

The only hope for change is that a lawsuit being brought against USFWS by several environmental groups that would force USFWS to establish a recovery plan succeeds. It’s time the country and the courts look more critically at the border fence, not only because of its impact on local families and economies but the impact on wildlife as well. It’s easy to talk about security and prey on people’s fears to come up with solutions that at least sound good and make the government look like it’s doing something productive. It’s a lot harder to take all the complex issues involved and come up with a lasting and comprehensive solution, one that takes into account the harm the action also will do. That hasn’t been done with the border fence nor with the USFWS decision that, when it comes to jaguars, pays for it to sit on its collective ass.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Single-Species Management



The picture above was taken of a mountain lion kill in Arizona. I’m sure your first thought was that the puma was killed by a recreational hunter, but the truth is uglier than that. This lion was killed by an employee of the Arizona Game and Fish Department. No, the cougar had not attacked a human. Nor had it taken someone’s livestock. The cardinal sin that cost this lion his life was the death of a bighorn sheep. You see, the herd of bighorn sheep in Arizona’s US Fish and Wildlife Service’s KOFA Wildlife Refuge has been declining, and the AGFD is blaming the decline of the herd on the lions, even though there is no science to support their claims and KOFA is within Federal jurisdiction. (In fact, the lion that was killed was collared to provide some science that would correlate or disprove the lion’s impact; and the AGFD killed the lion only three months after the collar was put in place. It would appear AGFD didn’t want any science…). The loss of that one bighorn (1 out of 390) was enough to cause wildlife managers to kill one of the only five mountain lions that live in KOFA and one that had been collared. This is the result of an ugly, undocumented philosophy that too often infects primarily state wildlife agencies called “single-species management”. It manifests itself in the death or elimination of the species that has fallen out of or never had political favor.

One would think that we had learned from the predator exterminations of the late eighteen and early nineteen hundreds how damaging to the ecosystem such an approach is. It was these exterminations that were the first practice of this philosophy, and its name indeed holds two edges of a very cutting sword. It is practiced by killing off a certain target species usually for the benefit of another species, the latter which may take the form of a proxy (such as bighorn sheep) but which is, in reality, man.

If you want to discover whether your state agencies are practicing single-species management, take a look at what wildlife they are protecting and exterminating and what science there is behind it. A good balanced wildlife management program may perform an act like reintroduction of a particular endangered or threatened species but will also have in it elements that take into account expected predation. A poorly run or planned program will not, will act with little or no scientific basis, and will inevitably result in some agency taking action against the offending species. This will be especially true when the program is politically popular either with powerful individuals within state governments or hunting lobbies that serve only short-sighted or self-serving goals (and not all of them do). A good sign that an agency is practicing single-species management, or variants thereof, will be when it cannot establish under outside scrutiny a good scientific basis for its actions. When any agency is not examining the ecosystem as a whole, except during scientific study when research goals may be narrower than that, what are we paying these professionals for? Is it to become the personal hunting guides or range managers of politicians who have no impulse to protect the public good? Is it to make the sole purpose of state wildlife agencies a provider for recreational hunting to fatten the pockets of local businessmen who will pay back what they earn in votes? One would think so. Somewhere, someway, the idea that wildlife and wilderness are essential resources for the whole society has been lost, and it has been the states more than the Federal government whose apathy and arrogance has made it so.

This not only appears to be the case for Arizona, but it holds true for Texas as well. At a Texas Parks and Wildlife sponsored mountain lion conference many years ago, us attendees were asked to help define the goals of the conference in an effort to make us all stakeholders and help us work together. I introduced a statement declaring that the “goal of the conference was to ensure the welfare of the mountain lion came first”. Texas Parks and Wildlife threw out that statement without comment. I knew instantly then that we were playing a political game, and those who were there cared more about their own agendas than they did about what happened to the mountain lion in Texas. Nothing has changed here since. Texas apparently doesn’t even track mountain lion mortality rates anymore, as feeble as that effort was to provide some kind of population data ten years ago. If they do, they don’t compile it because they’ve been unable to satisfy my requests for it within the last year.

People must become aware of how their own survival and quality of life depend on the health of the entire ecosystem around them. That especially includes the animals we call predators, which we are always too eager to kill whether it’s to calm our own fears or make life for us convenient and illusory safe. But such a reversal personal attitudes and abdication of personal responsibility is not likely to happen anytime soon. There are too many players entrenched in state governments who lose too much if things were to change, and too many people who feel like what happens to the mountain lion, or the outdoors itself, doesn’t affect them. It may take the lessons of global warming to teach them anything different, and it may be a lesson we learn as we take our dying breaths.