Arizona's Kofa Wildlife Refuge
 
Photo of landsacape.

HISTORY OF LIONS IN ARIZONA

Help close "open hunting" in which an unlimited number of mountain lions can be killed during hunting season.

As was the case in many states, Arizona's mountain lions were persecuted as vermin by early European settlers. From 1919 until 1970 mountain lions in Arizona were listed as a bountied predator. While Arizona reclassified mountain lions as "big game" animals in 1970, the bounty law remained on the books as a non-funded program until its repeal in 1990. During this time at least 7,723 mountain lions were reported killed and turned over to government agents.

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The History of Lions in Arizona

Genetic research indicates that the common ancestor of today's Leopardus, Lynx, Puma, Prionailurus, and Felis lineages migrated across the Bering land bridge into the Americas approximately 8 to 8.5 million years ago.

Petroglyphs in Arizona
Photo of petroglyps depicting people and animals, etched on a couple boulders.

What we know as a mountain lion today became recognizable as a distinct species about 400,000 years ago, and inhabited nearly all of the Americas for hundreds of thousands of years, alongside the giant sloth, the mammoth, the dire wolf and the sabre-toothed lion.

During the Pleistocene ice ages, conditions appear to have become too cold for mountain lion populations to survive, and paleotologists believe that at the end of the last ice age, the big cats repopulated North America from a southern refugium. Cougars have inhabited Arizona, alongside humans, for more than 40,000 years.

Native people memorialized the mountain lion in rock carvings, totems, in story and in song. As European settlement expanded in the 1840's, mountain lion persecution and riding the landscape of dangerous wildlife became more common.

Bounty Period

Like most states, Arizona's first lion management plan took the form of paying a bounty for every lion killed where the pelt was turned over to authorities. This program continued in Arizona until roughly fifty years ago.

History of Mountain Lion Management in Arizona

In 1919, mountain lions in Arizona were classified as a "predatory animal" by the territorial legislature and a bounty of $50 was paid for each one killed. While Arizona reclassified mountain lions as "big game" animals in 1970, the bounty law remained on the books as a non-funded program until its repeal in 1990. During the 51 years Arizona's mountain lion bounty was in effect, 7,723 mountain lions were killed and turned in to the government for the bounty.

At the same time that lions were listed as big game animals, the Arizona legislature revised Statue 17-302 to allow the killing of mountain lions for depredation purposes. In 1990, the state's depredation policy changed to require that there be an actual loss of livestock prior to lethal removal of mountain lions.

In the year 2000, Arizona Game and Fish Department established a wildlife predation management policy. Among other things, this policy in part called for killing individual mountain lions or suppressing resident mountain lion populations where ungulate numbers (deer, elk, big horn sheep, etc.) are considered to be below AZGFD management goals, or when conducting transplants of species such as bighorn sheep and pronghorn. According to this policy, the Department can increase the number of lions killed by hunters or trappers, or authorize department personnel and other individuals to kill mountain lions to achieve these policy ends. For several years now AZGFD has consistently increased quotas and bag limits in several of their Game Management Units (GMUs) in an effort to reduce the resident population of mountain lions, citing concern about the health and well-being of bighorn sheep and mule deer populations.

In its 2001 Strategic Plan, AZGFD stated that the goals of its mountain lion management strategy were to "manage the mountain lion population, its numbers and distribution as an important part of Arizona's fauna [and to] provide mountain lion hunting (including hunting with dogs) and other related recreational opportunities." The department's stated objectives are to:

  1. "maintain an annual harvest of between 250 to 300 mountain lions (including depredation takes),
  2. provide recreational opportunities for 3,000 to 6,000 sport hunters per year; and
  3. maintain existing occupied habitat, and maintain the present range of mountain lions in Arizona."

In 2003, Arizona Game and Fish Department, in accordance with its wildlife predation management policy, proposed intensive mountain lion removal projects in several western Game Management Units in conjunction with their bighorn sheep relocation program. Arizona currently (2012) has a year-round trophy hunting season on mountain lions, as well as predator "contest shoots," in which prizes are given for shooting as many coyotes, foxes, bobcats, etc. as possible.

Arizona's Killing Fields

Based on a lion-mortality density model developed by the Mountain Lion Foundation, Arizona averages 0.45 mountain lions reported killed by humans for every 100 square miles of habitat. The eleven western state average is 0.65. Using MLF's mortality ranking system, Arizona ranks 8th amongst the 11 western states studied by MLF in reported human-caused mountain lion mortalities.

A review of average annual mountain lion mortality numbers at the Game Management Unit (GMU) level clearly defines Arizona's diagonal band of habitat with the highest concentration of mountain lion kills located in the southeastern quarter of the state. Game Management Units 27, 28, 31, and 32 in particular stand out with their disproportionate annual average mountain lion mortality numbers. An analysis of these GMUs from 1997 to 2001 shows a higher proportion of depredation related lion mortalities than experienced elsewhere in the state. This coupled with sport hunting kills raised the annual average mountain lion mortality numbers to levels not seen elsewhere within the state.

Using MLF's mortality ranking system, the top five Game Management Units in Arizona where human-caused mountain lion mortalities were greatest were numbers 27, 31, 32, 17 and 21. From 1997 to 2001, these GMUs accounted for 485 human-caused mountain lion mortalities. During this time period, these GMUs were responsible for 29 percent of human-caused mountain lion mortalities while encompassing only 9 percent of Arizona Game and Fish Department's mountain lion habitat.

Game Management Unit-27 is ranked as Arizona's number one killing field of mountain lions with an average mortality density rating of 1.8--almost twice the study average. From 1997 to 2001, GMU-27 averaged 25 human-caused mountain lion mortalities per year and accounted for 7 percent of all the state's human-caused mountain lion mortalities during that time period.


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