Historic Bighorn Restoration Program Helping Both Sheep and Mountain Lions
TUCSON, Ariz.—(ENEWSPF)–January 5, 2015. The number of mountain lions killed by hunters in southern Arizona’s Catalina and Rincon Mountains declined 40 percent in 2014, according to Arizona Game and Fish Department records. This follows a 9 percent decline in 2013. 2014 was the largest single-year, and 2013-2014 the largest two-year, decline in lion killings since 1982 (see Figure 1). In raw numbers, 22 lions were killed by hunters in 2012, 20 in 2013 and 12 in 2014.
The dramatic decline followed the establishment of a 22,500-acre bighorn sheep protected area in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness in July 2013. Hound hunting of lions is prohibited within the protected area.
Those seeking to prevent the return of bighorn sheep to the Pusch Ridge Wilderness assert that depredation kills conducted by the program are devastating the lion population. The decline in hunter kills, however, greatly outnumbered the single lion killed by the program in 2014 and the two killed in 2013. With these included, 2014 and 2013-2014 remain the largest single and two-year declines in lion killings since 1982 (see Figure 2).
“The Center joined the bighorn restoration program to bring these marvelous animals back to the wilderness where they belong, and to ensure that lions were protected at the same time,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Due to the creation of the protected area and conservative mountain lion management rules, both goals are being achieved.”
“Restoring sheep to the Pusch Ridge Wilderness is good for the sheep, good for lions, and good for the mountain,” said Suckling. “The cautious, innovative ecosystem approach taken here should serve as a model for bighorn restoration everywhere.”
Lion killing in the Catalinas and Rincons increased steadily from 1 in 1984 to an all-time high of 22 in 2012, reflecting the growth of lion, white-tail deer and human populations since the 1980s. In 2013, when the bighorn protected area was in effect for five months, lion deaths leveled off. In 2014, when it was in effect for a full year, lion deaths dropped to 12 by hunters, 1 by the bighorn program, and 1 by a rancher as of Dec. 16, 2014.
Two mountain lions that preyed on the newly introduced and not-yet acclimated sheep were killed in 2013 during the second week of the introduction program. A third predating lion was killed in March 2014, in the 15th week of the program. None have been killed since. The program is now in its 58th week. A small number of predating lions will likely be killed in 2015, but as per 2013 and 2014, these deaths will likely be offset by the much larger decrease in hunter-killed lions.
Hunting without dogs is permitted within the 22,500-acre bighorn protected area, but this harder, less common technique typically takes fewer lions. In 2014 no lions were killed by recreational hunters in the bighorn protected area (see Figure 3).