FWS Heeds Calls to Protect Big Horn Sheep in Refuge
Plan Will Avoid Over Predation of Big Horn Sheep
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) responded to calls by the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation (USSAF) and others to protect Big Horn Sheep in an Arizona Wildlife Refuge helping to ensure that reasonable wildlife management plans must be implemented when predators threaten a major animal population.
On May 21, FWS announced that it had completed an Environmental Assessment (EA) for limiting the mountain lion predation of bighorn sheep in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. The decision by FWS was necessary since a dramatic 50 percent decline in the Kofa bighorn sheep population coincided with the arrival of mountain lions in the Refuge around 2001.
In September, 2009, the USSAF, Arizona Deer Association, Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society, Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation, Wild Sheep Foundation and the Yuma Valley Rod & Gun Club petitioned the FWS to develop a management plan for mountain lions in Kofa.
In an April letter to acting FWS Director Rowan Gould, the groups expressed concern over the long time frame for making a decision and indicated that litigation could ensue if FWS failed to comply with its legal obligations to conserve the bighorn sheep population.
As part of the EA, FWS evaluated three methods for managing mountain lion predation on desert bighorn sheep in the Refuge. The preferred method will allow FWS to engage in the removal of individual mountain lions found to have killed two or more sheep within six months when the sheep population falls below 600. The removal could be lethal or non-lethal depending on the circumstances. When the sheep population exceeds 800, removal of mountain lions will not occur though those still found in the Refuge will be captured and fitted with tracking devices for research.
There are still several administrative procedures that FWS must comply with prior to implementing the management plan. The USSAF and its partners will closely monitor that it moves forward.
“We are glad that FWS has responded to the requests made by numerous conservation organizations,” said Rob Sexton, USSAF vice president for government affairs. “This decision shows that FWS understands its statutory obligations to manage predators in situations where those animals are decimating other wildlife populations.”
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