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.

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