Lion and Bear Snaring Project: Part One
Because the lion/bear snaring project involved government entities the information can get convoluted quickly. Therefore, this post will be divided into three parts. All information in these posts, and probably most future posts, was/will be taken directly from the investigation files of Macho B’s case. I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request in June 2011 and it was granted. I received the documents two weeks ago. Most names in the documents were redacted by the FOIA officer so in the cases where I couldn’t figure out who was speaking I just put the agency they worked for.
Macho B was trapped by snares set by AZGFD personnel for this project.
According to Kirby Bristow, the AZGFD lead biologist of the lion/bear snaring project, the study originally began as a bear population/movement study in the Huachuca and Patagonia Mountains of southern Arizona. Bear DNA was collected through hair snag traps. But, construction of the border fence caused concerns about disruption of connectivity between Mexico and the U.S. Lions (aka pumas, mountain lions, cougars) were then introduced into the study as an indicator species for habitat connectivity. The study was evolving into obtaining pre and post data on the animals in relation to the border wall and moving from hair snag traps to actually trapping bears and lions with snares in order to place telemetry collars on them. The study partnered with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). WCS was to conduct studies on the Mexican side of the border. The project was funded by federal dollars through a USFWS grant program called Federal Aid.
In addition to Kirby Bristow, AZGFD field technicians Thorry Smith and Michelle Crabb would be working on the project with AZGFD sub-contractor Emil McCain. AZGFD biologist, Ron Thompson acted as a consultant to McCain and Smith and was responsible for getting McCain hired for the project. AZGFD Research Branch Chief, Chantal (Chasa) O’Brien was Kirby’s boss and responsible for completing an Environmental Assessment Checklist for this project. She did not.
According to an AZGFD interview: If the AZGFD project is receiving Federal Aid, thus creating a federal nexus, then an EAC (Environmental Assessment Checklist) is required as part of complying with the Section 7 consultation process of the Endangered Species Act. The Research Branch biologist (for the snaring project it was Chasa O’Brien) responsible for the study would be responsible for completing the EAC and presenting it to the Habitat Branch for review. Once the EAC was completed, it would often times trigger a Heritage Data Management System (HDMS) review which is another program administered by the Habitat Branch. The HDMS maintains a data base of all endangered species in Arizona. The HDMS would advise the project biologist to the appropriate agency (in this case, USFWS) for consultation if a protected species (Macho B, endangered jaguar) is found occurring in a specific location (like near the snares). In instances where AZGFD studies (not impacting endangered species) change an aspect of its plans and later foresees impacting an endangered species (like snares set after the detection of Macho B in the immediate area), the project would then fall back under the Project Evaluation Program (PEP) for review. If the AZGFD biologist in charge of the study fails to advise the Habitat Branch of any change to the EAC, then the study would be invalid and contrary to any agreements with Federal Aid.
Digest. More later…