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.

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