Current Program Update
December 15, 2008, Kofa Website Situation Update
Updates will be provided on a quarterly basis starting in 2009. For immediate updates, check the “press releases” section.
[Please see archived updates for additional background]
Photo Credit = Todd Newport
The purpose of this joint Arizona Game and Fish Department-U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service effort is to restore the Kofa desert bighorn sheep herd to numbers that will once again support the herd’s critical and historic role as a source of animals for translocation to resurrect herds throughout the southwestern United States. Many herds were extirpated during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, primarily as a result of market hunting to support frontier development.
Herd Survey Update:
The 2008 Kofa NWR bighorn sheep herd survey was conducted in October 2008. The survey-estimated population on the refuge is 436 animals. The survey estimate is down from the 2007 survey estimate of 460 sheep, but it is up from the lowest recorded estimated level of the 2006 survey of 390. Biologists’ analysis of the past three surveys indicates no significant decline or improvement to the herd’s population. Wildlife management agencies remain concerned about the low population levels on the refuge compared to the estimated 812 animals of the 2000 survey.
The official joint news release released on Nov. 26, 2008 is available `at: www.azgfd.gov/pdfs/w_c/bhsheep/2008surveyresults.pdf.
The next annual survey will be in the fall of 2009.
Since the July update, water conditions remain favorable due to good rainfall during the summer and in the early fall months. Water catchments levels are near capacity and in abundance, which should provide good watering reserves, if (when) dryer conditions return.
Only one water hauling effort to the Chain Tank was initiated. However, the fall rains provided additional water to bring the tank to suitable levels. In accordance with the Wilderness Act Rules, the tank filling was performed using hoses and piping to the tank.
A new temporary/experimental tank, located near Engesser Pass (outside of the wilderness area) is being studied. The tank is above ground at this time, to establish the amount of use and need, before making it permanent. However, due to excellent rain conditions, use by bighorn sheep has not been established.
Photo Credit = Todd Newport
Predation Management and Monitoring:
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s water hole cameras recorded lion visits in the Kofa and Castle Dome Mountains.
Biologists retrieved a lion-killed collared bighorn sheep ewe near Horse Tanks in late August. The sheep was collared by Game and Fish as part of a predation study.
Biologists retrieved another suspected lion-killed collared bighorn ewe near Alamo Spring in late November. Investigative evidence showed probable lion kill, but recent rains impaired confirmation. The sheep was collared as part of New Mexico State University biological study.
Department officials confirmed a lion-killed mule deer in September near the Kofa Mines.
RM01 – The adult male lion, captured and collared in the Gila Bend Mountains in August 2008, has been recorded spending a lot of time on the eastern boundaries of the Predation Management Area. Recorded kills have included mule deer, coyotes and fox. No bighorn sheep kills have been recorded to date. At the time of this report, RM01 spends most of his time east of the refuge around the Tank Gila Bend Mountains.
The Department continues to seek opportunities to capture and collar lions for its monitoring program.
Currently, there are no lions collared on the refuge.
The moratorium between the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to suspend lethally removing “offending lions” collared on the Kofa Complex will end in April.
The Kofa NWR Mountain Lion Management Plan and Environmental Assessment (EA) draft is working and may be available in early 2009.
Translocations remain suspended at this time
Results from blood samples taken from sheep captured and collared in October 2007 are still pending. Lap reports for pneumonia are negative.
Blood samples from 14 recently collared animals are also undergoing testing by the Arizona Game and Fish Department (see Research and Monitoring section below).
Nothing new to report
The 2008 bighorn sheep hunting season in the Kofa region ran Dec. 1-31, 2008. The Department allocated a total of nine (9) hunt permit-tags to the Game Management Units that include the Kofa NWF for the 2008 season, a decrease of one (1) tag from the 2007 season. The hunt permit-tags were available through a limited application process. The distribution of the hunt permit-tags are as follows: Three (3) tags in Unit 45A (was five in 2007), two (2) in Unit 45B (was one in 2007), and four (4) in Unit 45C (same as 2007).
A portion of Unit 44B South includes some of the Kofa NWR range in its boundaries and could include a sheep harvest from the Kofa. Only one (1) tag was allocated to Unit 44BS, bringing the maximum possible harvest from the Kofa NWR to 10 rams, or 2 percent of the survey estimated herd population.
Mandatory harvest reporting and physical check-in is required for all bighorn sheep hunters – regardless of hunt success. Harvest reports from hunters of the Kofa NWR game management units put harvest numbers at nine (9) rams.
Hunters in Unit 45A continue to struggle and a reduction of hunt permit-tags in 2009 is likely for this unit, based on survey results.
In addition, is one (1) Special Big Game Tags (Commissioner’s tags) allocated for bighorn sheep that could be used in the southwest region of the state that does include the Kofa NWR units. This special tag is valid all year long. However, historically, this tag is rarely used for hunting on the Kofa NWR.
Research and Monitoring
Of the original 30 ewes collared in November 2007, (14 by NMSU and 16 by AGFD) twenty-six ( 26) collars are still active.
The status of Arizona’s collars are: nine (9) remain totally working, two (2) sheep mortalities, and five (5) of the collars partly failed (satellite uplink failed; but the VHF transmitter is still working on 4). The Department re-collared two (2) animals that had failed collars. Water leaks were the main cause of collar failures.
The Department captured and collared an additional 14 ewe sheep on Nov. 17, 18 and 20 in the Kofa and Castle Dome mountains, in a continuing effort to monitor for predation. Blood samples from these sheep will be undergoing testing by the University of Arizona Veterinary Diagnostic Lab for disease analysis. Results are pending.
These additional capturing and collaring efforts brings Arizona’s collared sheep to a total of 25 sheep fitted with functioning collars as part of a nutrition study, and a predation monitoring and management program.
NMSU reports 13 collars are still functioning.
In keeping with the NWR System Improvement Act of 1997, data and information is shared between these two collaring programs.
U.S. District Court Judge Mary H. Murguia ruled on Sept. 5, 2008, that a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to allow redevelopment of two existing water catchments using motorized equipment did not violate the Wilderness Act and that the agency complied with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in allowing the work to occur.
Wilderness Watch has filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.