Washington, DC — The National Park Service will allow Arizona game officials to kill as many as ten mountain lions at Lake Mead National Recreation Area this spring without any study of the need for, or the effects of, the action. In a letter released today, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is asking the Park Service to block the mountain lion hunt until basic biological evaluations have been completed.
Citing losses of bighorn sheep, the Arizona Game and Fish Department has arranged for a predator hunter to kill ten mountain lions on the federal lands within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. While the National Park Service initially “asked” to delay the killing until the state produced some data about lion and bighorn populations in the national recreation area, the federal agency has now dropped its objections to the state removing the cats from federal land.
“This shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later stance is an abdication of the Park Service’s responsibility to protect all wildlife within our national parks,” stated PEER Board member Frank Buono, the former assistant superintendent at Mojave National Preserve. “Responsible wildlife management requires that both the consequences and the alternatives are assessed before coming in with guns blazing.”
Among the questions that have not been addressed at Lake Mead are—
- How many mountain lions there are on the Arizona side of Lake Mead and whether killing ten cats would wipe out the entire population in the area;
- Arizona sells permits to hunt bighorn sheep but has not studied whether it makes more sense to sell fewer permits rather than kill mountain lions; and
- The bighorn herd at Lake Mead numbers approximately 1,000 and serves as a stocking reserve, supplying some 300 sheep over the past decade for other areas. Game officials claim mountain lions have killed seven sheep but it is not known if that is an excessive level of predation or what level of predation is prudent for this 1,000 sheep population.
Another issue is the deference of the National Park Service to a state claim of jurisdiction of wildlife on federal lands. Lake Mead is a unit of the national park system, governed by rules and laws requiring it to conserve wildlife and forbidding it from managing animals to increase the populations of hunt-able species, even in those parks where Congress has authorized hunting.
“The National Park Service cannot allow a state to manage the recreation area and its wildlife in a way that is at odds with the standards that govern the national park system,” Buono added. “First, the Park Service supinely allows Arizona to set the take limits for bighorn sheep without consequence to the hunted species, and now the Park Service wants to be an onlooker while the state comes forward to kill lions as the remedy to the problem it may have created by promoting over-hunting.”
Last year, the Park Service proposed a highly controversial rewrite of its Management Policies that would, among other things, subject park wildlife to state hunting regulations. This rewrite, however, is in limbo as a wholesale leadership shift is occurring within the Park Service’s parent agency, the Department of Interior.