Current Program Update
June 29, 2009, Kofa Website Situation Update
Updates will be provided periodically starting in 2009. For immediate updates, check the “press releases” section.
[Please see archived updates for additional background]
The purpose of this joint Arizona Game and Fish Department and 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 because of unregulated market hunting to support frontier development. However, through regulated hunting, concerned sportsmen, and the department’s translocation program, Arizona’s bighorn sheep herd is estimated at nearly 6,000 animals. Additionally, because of the program, two species of bighorn sheep call Arizona home - the desert bighorn and Rocky Mountain bighorn.
Herd Survey Update:
The next annual survey is targeted for October of 2009. Results will be announced via a press release and posted in the press release section of this site.
The last Kofa NWR bighorn sheep herd survey was conducted in October 2008. That survey estimated the population on the refuge at 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.
Since the December update, water conditions remain generally good. However, dryer conditions have prevailed since January and water levels are slowly dropping. Frequent inspections of all priority waters began in April. If it becomes necessary, water will be hauled to maintain availability at all priority locations.
Predation Management and Monitoring:
Biologists investigated a lion-killed bighorn ewe, in March, near Owl Head on the Kofa. This ewe was wearing a satellite GPS collar; it was killed by an un-collared mountain lion.
Biologists retrieved another satellite collar from a ewe in April; it was killed by an un-collared mountain lion near Red Rock Pass.
A satellite collar was retrieved from a dead ewe on Squaw Peak in June. The sheep had been dead for a long time and exact cause of death could not be determined, though there was no evidence that predation was involved.
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. Though this lion has mostly preyed on mule deer, plus a few coyotes and fox, it killed three bighorn sheep in February and March and two more in June. Two adult ewes, a yearling ewe, and a lamb were killed in the Gila Bend Mountains, and an adult ram was killed in the Tank Mountains. Through mid-June this lion has killed 22 mule deer and 5 bighorn sheep. Note, the ram killed in the Tank Mountains was in the Predation Management Area.
KM04 – This adult male lion was captured and collared near Squaw Tank in the Kofa Mountains at the end of February. Through mid-June it has killed nine bighorn sheep in the Tank, Little Horn, and Eagletail Mountains. More than one of these kills occurred in the Predation Management Area making KM04 an offending lion (note - none of these kills have been on the Kofa NWR). In April, the Commission reset KM04’s predation count back to zero to coincide with the extension to the moratorium (see below). Since that time KM04 has killed two more bighorn sheep in the Predation Management Area, and is once again classified as an offending lion.
The Department continues to seek opportunities to capture and collar lions for its monitoring program.
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 was extended in April by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission until July 31, 2009 – the anticipated date of completion for the EA scoping period.
The Kofa NWR Mountain Lion Management Plan and Environmental Assessment (EA) draft is being worked on by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and may be available for public review by July 2009.
Translocations remain suspended at this time. The last translocation from the Kofa was in 2005. To learn more about translocations click here.
Results from blood samples taken from sheep captured and collared in November 2008 are still pending. Lab reports for pneumonia were 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 2009 bighorn sheep hunting season in the Game Management Units (45A, 45B and 45C) that include the Kofa NWR region are scheduled for Dec. 1-31, 2009.
The Department allocated six (6) hunt permit-tags in this region, a decrease of three (3) permits from the 2008 season. The limited hunt permit-tags were available through a lottery application process. The distribution of the hunt permit-tags are as follows: one (1) tag in Unit 45A (was three in 2008), two (2) in Unit 45B (same as in 2008), and three (3) in Unit 45C (was four in 2008).
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 seven rams, which accounts for only 1.6 percent of the 2008 survey estimated herd population.
Mandatory harvest reporting and physical check-in is required for all bighorn sheep hunters – regardless of hunt success and results will be reported once the 2009 season is concluded.
Additionally, there is one (1) Special Big Game Tag (Commissioner’s tag) 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 only occasionally used for hunting on the Kofa NWR.
Research and Monitoring
From the 2007 capture of 30 ewes, 21 are still functioning. Six collars have failed, but two of those were replaced in November 2008. Five of the ewes were killed by mountain lion predation and 1 died of unknown causes (not predation).
From the 2008 capture of 14 additional ewes, 12 are still active. One sheep died within days of the capture from injuries sustained during the capture and one has been killed by a mountain lion.
A total of 44 sheep have been collared, 30 with satellite GPS and 14 with VHF only. Thirty-three remain working (21 sat, 12 VHF). Note - six of the collars were on animals that have been killed by mountain lions.
In keeping with the National Wildlife Refuge 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.