Note: Program updates will be provided at least monthly. Interim updates may be provided when events deemed especially significant occur.
November 28, 2007, Kofa Website Situation Update
- The first annual survey of the Kofa NWR bighorn sheep herd since 1992 started on October 30 and was completed on November 4. As usual, the data collected will require several weeks of analysis before we will have this year’s population estimate. We expect to complete that analysis in December, so look for it in the next update.
- We do not intend to release any preliminary estimate or raw numbers in advance of our completing the analysis. Due to the scientific process, the final estimate will almost certainly vary from any preliminary one and our experience with some groups opposed to active wildlife management indicates that any such discrepancy will not be seen as part of the normal data crunching process, but will be used to attack our integrity and competency. That said, we did see numbers approximating last year’s in Game Management Unit (GMU) 45A, while numbers in GMUs 45B & C appear to be somewhat higher. The population estimate calculation methodology utilizes factors other than raw sighting numbers (e.g., group size and sex/age composition and ratios) which can mean that increased/decreased sighting numbers may not directly correlate with increased/decreased population estimates.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) was unable to negotiate an economically feasible contract for the conduct of an Environmental Assessment for future water development on the Kofa NWR. At present, it appears the Service’s intent is to do the necessary assessment as part of a future Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP).
- A large adult male mountain lion (designated KM03) was captured in the Burro Canyon area in the western Kofa Mountains on October 21. He was fitted with a GPS radio collar and released. Over the next two days we were able to confirm the collar is working and providing data, although the flow of data has been more intermittent than hoped. The low rates of data flow are reminiscent of our experience with KM01 and are thought to relate to technical issues related to the satellite array versus any malfunction in the collar.
- A kill (mule deer) has been confirmed for mountain lion KM03. The lion removed the head of the deer and fed heavily on the carcass which precluded determining the sex of the deer. Department and Service biologists spent much of the week of November 26 researching some location clusters downloaded from KM03’s collar. These were located in areas east of the NWR. In the past, such clusters have been indicative of a lion sitting on a kill.
- Additional information continues to result from analysis of field materials recovered from KM01’s kills. After this lion’s removal last June, researchers backtracked location data contained in the collar and found a total of 10 kills. In some cases the condition of the kills necessitated the taking of hair and bone samples to verify species. Counting recently completed sample analyses, the current list of confirmed kills for this lion are: five bighorn sheep, three mule deer, one badger, and one still unidentified large ungulate (either bighorn or mule deer), i.e., one of the previously unidentified large ungulates has been confirmed as a mule deer and the kill previously thought to be a coyote was confirmed as a badger.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has indicated that it will use internal (versus contract) resources to develop an Environmental Assessment for removal of offending lions (lions that kill two bighorn within a six month period) from Refuge property. Such lions are already subject to removal from lands outside the Refuge under the Department’s Kofa Mountains Complex Predation Management Plan.
- No transplants are planned for the Kofa NWR herd. The last transplants from this herd occurred in 2005 when 30 Kofa bighorn were collected and sent to the San Andres NWR in New Mexico to sustain that herd.
- The Department did conduct some transplants from parts of southwestern Arizona outside the Kofa NWR. In order to avoid this activity being mistaken for a Kofa NWR transplant, the following information is provided: Department staff, assisted by volunteers, Liberty Wildlife Center, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Staff, and the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society conducted two transplants from areas outside the Kofa Mountains Complex in November. The first transplant (the Department’s 100th) on November 16, involved capturing and collaring 13 bighorn (2 rams and 11 ewes) in the Imperial Hills along the Colorado River near Martinez Lake and releasing them in the Big Horn Mountains on November 17. The second transplant involved capturing 10 bighorn (2 rams and 8 ewes) in the Trigo Mountains near Cibola National Wildlife Refuge and releasing them in the Mineral Mountains on November 18. This second transplant included a rare capture mortality when one bighorn died in the helicopter while being transported to the collaring site.
- On November 2-5, tissue and blood samples were taken from the 27 ewes captured and collared by the New Mexico Research Unit. This was part of the joint U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Arizona Game and Fish Department effort to study nutrition, gather information about mortality, and assist in monitoring and management of predation. Results from the analysis of these samples is pending.
Recreational Impact on Bighorn Habitat:
- Hunting season will begin December first and end on December 31. For the 2007 hunt, 12 tags are available for the Kofa NWR. This is the lowest number of tags issued for the refuge since 1981.
- Earlier this year, the Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed plans for capturing and collaring up to 45 Kofa NWR bighorn as part of a joint effort to study nutrition, gather information about mortality, and assist in monitoring and management of predation. A decision was made not to collar animals in the Castle Dome Mountains at this time, so the target number was reduced to 30 animals. Accordingly, the New Mexico Research Unit collared 27 bighorn ewes in the Kofa Mountains and some surrounding areas (Hidden Valley Hills), November 2-5. Subsequently, one of the GPS collars released prematurely, dropped off the animal, and was then recovered.
- Subsequently, on November 18, four bighorn were captured and collared by AZGFD staff in the Kofa Mountains to complete the collaring effort initiated earlier in the month. In addition to three new collars, the GPS collar that was recovered after releasing early following the November 2-5 effort, was reinstalled during this operation. This brings the total number of collared animals to 30: 16 GPS and 14 VHF.
Litigation on Kofa NWR Wildlife Waters:
- The plantiffs in the suit have withdrawn their request for injunctive relief. That part of the suit that seeks a judgment on the appropriate process (i.e., Categorical Exclusion vs. an EA or EIS) for conducting active wildlife water management on wilderness portions of the refuge is still pending.