March 12, 2004
Governor, Congressman and citizens ignored as officials rush mountain lion kill at Sabino Canyon.
Issue heats up as citizens take non-violent direct action to protect cougars on-the-ground.
Government's decision could set deadly national precedent for predator killing on public wildlands.
contact: Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist, Center for Biological Diversity, 520.623.5252 x306 or 520.906.2159
TUCSON -- 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 mountain lions at Sabino Canyon, and still refuse to work with the public on non-lethal options. Several hundred people protested the lion hunt yesterday in downtown Tucson at the CNF headquarters. Public opinion in Tucson is overwhelmingly in favor of protecting the cougars.
CBD received a call that people have been patrolling in Sabino Canyon since Wednesday night to protect the cougars through non-violent interference with this rushed and unjustified hunt. They vowed to remain in the canyon until the hunt is stopped.
Southern Arizona's Congressman Grijalva said today in a news release, "It is clear that the Forest Service is determined to move forward with this action, despite public opposition. It seems that they have failed in their duties as public officials to provide the public with information that would justify these actions, adequately study the issue, or evaluate alternatives before taking such drastic measures. However, to date, I have seen no data that would support a conclusion that an attack is imminent. The information provided by the Forest Service and Game and Fish is anecdotal and incomplete at best. Perhaps certain areas within Sabino Canyon should be closed if they are heavily used areas by the lions. We must respect that the animals live there, and they provide a natural balance to the biological diversity of the area, helping to maintain balanced populations of other animals there."
"We thank Governor Napolitano and Congressman Grijalva for listening to the public outrage and calling for a more careful, thoughtful approach," said Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist with CBD. "We urge them to continue to do everything they can to halt the lion killing. Clearly, Game and Fish and the Forest Service are out of control."
Conservation groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, Sky Island Alliance, Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, Defenders of Wildlife, Humane Society, Sierra Club, and Wildlands Project met Wednesday with officials from CNF and AGFD.
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.
"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."
At the Wednesday meeting, CNF Supervisor Derby and Gerry Perry of AGFD pointed to a duty to eliminate a "liability problem," and said "lawyers are telling us we have to do something." When asked, they also admitted they could not determine which lion may be a problem, and did not deny that all lions now in Sabino Canyon would likely be killed if caught. When pressed on the inadequacy of their evidence, Derby said "that's all the evidence you're going to get." USFS and AGFD have also refused to inform the public on hunt progress.
Citizens groups want more public education, and offered to support a study of Sabino Canyon lion behavior. They requested a stay until Monday to consider non-lethal options, but officials denied. Environmentalists pointed out that if left alone, lions pushed in to area by the Aspen fire may soon move up the canyon and away from people due to warmer weather.
"Even if these lions 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 where cougars are essential to ecosystem health, not a city park or Disneyland, and it shouldn't be managed this way."
Relocation of mountain lions is not a viable option, and wildlife managers have said if the lions are located they will be killed.
This issue is likely to come up tomorrow at the
Arizona Game & Fish
Commission meeting in Tucson, Best Western Inn Suites,
Sabino Canyon is now a controversial fee-demo area, and CNF benefits financially from its maximum use by people.