How many bighorn sheep does it take to feed a mountain lion?
Too many, if you believe the Arizona Game and Fish Department, which has decided it's time to help out the sheep that spend time at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area by taking out some of the mountain lions.
Department officials say they want to remove as many as ten mountain lions from the area until predation on the sheep is reduced. "Not every lion is killing sheep," says Jim deVos, research branch chief for the department. "We're trying to focus on known kills and trying to remove that lion that is killing sheep."
That should be interesting. How does one tell if a mountain lion enjoys sheep or not? I mean, don't all mountain lions like sheep?
Over at the Center for Biological Diversity, desert ecologist Daniel Patterson says the department is making a mistake.
"Lions are scarce. We don't need to be killing lions to protect the bighorn. We don't need single-species management, we need ecosystem management."
Now there's an idea.
Officials for Public Employees for Environmental Ethics think the Arizona Game and Fish Department is jumping the gun. They want the agency to hold some public hearings so the public can weigh in on this issue. For instance, PEER wants to know whether the agency knows how many mountain lions live on the Arizona side of the NRA, and whether killing ten would wipe out the resident population?
Another good question is how much of an impact are mountain lions having on the bighorn population? PEER notes that the bighorn herd at Lake Mead is said to number roughly 1,000. While Arizona game officials say seven sheep have been killed this spring, PEER wants to know if that's a high rate of predation for a herd of 1,000, or inconsequential?
Seems like a good question.
Beyond that, PEER says the Park Service, which manages Lake Mead, is abdicating its responsibility to the mountain lions by allowing Arizona game officials to implement their plan. However, a spokeswoman at Lake Mead says Arizona officials are within their rights to call for the mountain lion reduction, as designation of Lake Mead as an NRA extended that right to Arizona and Nevada officials.