[Federal Register: August 4, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 148)]
[Page 38667-38668]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R2-R-2009-N0073; 22570-1261-0000-V3]

Limiting Mountain Lion Predation on Desert Bighorn Sheep on Kofa 
National Wildlife Refuge, Yuma and La Paz Counties, AZ

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability of draft environmental assessment; 
request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce 
that our draft environmental assessment (EA) for limiting mountain lion 
(Puma concolor) predation on desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis 
mexicana) on the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) is available. 
The Refuge is located in southwest Arizona. The draft EA describes 
alternatives, including a proposed action alternative, that address how 
we intend to manage mountain lion predation to help achieve bighorn 
sheep population objectives.

DATES: To ensure consideration, we must receive your written comments 
on the draft EA 60 days from date of publication.

ADDRESSES: Please provide written comments to the Southwest Arizona 
National Wildlife Refuge Complex, by U.S. mail at U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, 9300 East 28th Street, Yuma, AZ 85365; via facsimile 
at 928-783-8611; or electronically to KofaLionComments@fws.gov. You may 
obtain a copy of the draft EA by writing to the address above, or by 
download from http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/arizona/kofa.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jose Viramontes, 505-248-6455 (phone); 
505-248-6915 (fax); or Jose_Viramontes@fws.gov (e-mail). If you use a 
telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), you may call the Federal 
Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 1-800-877-8339, 24 hours a day, 7 
days a week.



    The Refuge contains a major portion of the largest contiguous 
habitat for desert bighorn sheep in southwestern Arizona and 
historically has been home to a population averaging 760 bighorns. The 
Refuge has served as the primary source of bighorn sheep for 
translocations to reestablish and supplement extirpated or declining 
populations throughout southern Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and 
Colorado. Population estimates from systematic aerial surveys indicate 
that a 50-percent decline in the Refuge sheep population occurred 
during the period 2000-2008.
    In response to this decline, the Service and the Arizona Game and 
Fish Department (AZGFD) have conducted an analysis of the probable 
causes of the decline and are currently implementing a strategic 
management program intended to lead to the recovery of this important 
wildlife resource. Several studies and monitoring projects have been 
initiated or enhanced. Some of the more important aspects of this broad 
program include more frequent bighorn population surveys, monitoring 
and maintaining water availability, assessing body condition and 
disease in the bighorn population, monitoring disturbance attributable 
to human recreation, and monitoring the extent of predation and its 
impacts on the population. Many of the elements in this management 
program have been addressed through prior planning documents and 
require little additional review. Others, such as the proposed lethal 
control of mountain lions, have not been previously addressed and

[[Page 38668]]

therefore require National Environmental Policy Act analysis and public 

Draft Environmental Assessment

    This draft EA identifies and evaluates three alternatives for 
managing mountain lion predation on desert bighorn sheep on the Refuge.
    Alternative A: Under this alternative, the Refuge would continue to 
be managed as it has been in the past. We currently have no plan to 
guide the management of mountain lions. Current management efforts, 
described in the Refuge's general management plan, focus on maintaining 
critical wildlife water sources for bighorn sheep, and, in coordination 
with the AZGFD, monitoring desert bighorn sheep numbers, and 
considering desert bighorn sheep transplants to augment populations 
elsewhere. Research on wildlife and wildlife water sources would 
continue. We would not take action to prevent mountain lion predation 
on desert bighorn sheep within the Refuge boundaries under this 
    Alternative B: This is the our proposed action, which would allow 
the option of removing specific, individually identified offending 
mountain lions, through translocation or lethal removal, from the 
Refuge under certain circumstances, in order to recover and maintain an 
optimal population of desert bighorn sheep. The proposed action has 
several components. We would trap mountain lions and fit them with 
tracking devices to monitor their activities. When the Refuge bighorn 
sheep population estimate is below 600 animals, active mountain lion 
removal would occur. Active mountain lion control is the removal of 
mountain lions found to kill two or more bighorn sheep within a 6-month 
period. The Service, or its agents, would carry out the lethal removal 
or translocation. However, when the Refuge bighorn sheep population 
estimate is between 600 and 800 animals, active mountain lion control 
may or may not be employed based on the totality of the circumstances 
at the time. In order to meet the bighorn sheep population objectives 
while minimizing the necessary impacts to mountain lions, some 
flexibility is desired. Decisions regarding whether active mountain 
lion control is necessary will be based on an adaptive management 
approach and based on the following factors: The current sheep 
population estimate; the current sheep population trend; bighorn sheep 
lamb survival and recruitment; the estimate of the number of mountain 
lions currently using the Refuge; current and forecasted habitat 
conditions; and available funding and manpower. When the Refuge bighorn 
sheep population estimate is at or above 800 animals, active mountain 
lion control would not occur, although mountain lions on the Refuge 
would continue to be captured and fitted with tracking devices to aid 
in continuing research.
    Alternative C: Under this alternative, there would be no attempts 
to radio collar and distinguish which mountain lions are preying on 
bighorn sheep. Mountain lions would be lethally removed or translocated 
at a rate of approximately 2 mountain lions per year from the area 
until the sheep population reaches an estimated 800 animals and has 
exhibited an increasing trend based on at least 3 sheep population 
surveys. Mountain lion removals would resume if the Refuge bighorn 
sheep population was found to again go below 800 animals.

Additional Refuge Information

    Additional information on the history of the Refuge and its 
purpose, goals, objectives, and management strategies can be found in 
the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge & Wilderness and New Water Mountains 
Wilderness Interagency Management Plan and Environmental Assessment: 
EA-AZ-055-95-105, October 1996. Pertinent information can also be found 
in the April 2007 report titled Investigative Report and 
Recommendations for the Kofa Bighorn Sheep Herd, prepared jointly by 
the Service and the AZGFD. Both documents, along with other detailed 
information, are available at the following Web site: http://

Public Availability of Comments

    Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or 
other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be 
aware that your entire comment--including your personal identifying 
information--may be made publicly available at any time. While you can 
ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying 
information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be 
able to do so.


    The Environmental Review of this project will be conducted in 
accordance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy 
Act (NEPA) of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.); NEPA 
Regulations (40 CFR parts 1500-1508); other appropriate Federal laws 
and regulations; Executive Order 12996; the National Wildlife Refuge 
System Improvement Act of 1997; and Service policies and procedures for 
compliance with those laws and regulations.

    Dated: April 3, 2009.
Benjamin N. Tuggle,
Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Albuquerque, New 
[FR Doc. E9-18285 Filed 8-3-09; 8:45 am]