Lion and Bear Snaring Project; Part 2
Another AZGFD employee, Ginger Ritter of the Habitat Branch, confirmed AZGFD’s responsibility for completing an EAC for the lion/bear project. According to her: The lion/bear study initially began as a genetic study involving black bears where only hair samples were collected. As study developed, it included the capture of lions and bears for the purpose of placing telemetry collars on them. The new endeavor should have been reported to the Habitat Branch Project Evaluation Program for peer review by the project proponent. Failure to complete the addendum to the existing EAC by AZGFD prevented the USFWS/Federal Aid to conduct an Endangered Species Act Section 7 Consultation.
It is important to remember that AZGFD NEVER did an EAC for the lion/bear project, therefore, an addendum could not have been added to it.
From a USFWS interview: The AZGFD and USFWS were under an agreement called the Comprehensive Management System (CMS) for the federal funding of state wildlife studies and projects (From how I understand the CMS, AZGFD was given a block amount of money from Federal Aid that would be distributed to fund various AZGFD projects and studies if the AZGFD Commission approved the project/study. This system replaced AZGFD having to submit a grant proposal to Federal Aid for each individual project). Environmental compliance mandates including Section 7 consultation, under the Endangered Species Act, must be met. The lion/bear study was given money through this program. Neither an EA (Environmental Assessment) or Section 7 was completed by AZGFD.
Not completing a Section 7 consultation when it is mandated, such as the lion/bear study, is a violation of the Endangered Species Act, a federal law.
Directly from the AZGFD CMU dated July 1, 2007-June 30, 2013, it states on p.9, under the heading, Endangered Species: The responsibility for reviewing proposed jobs for possible impacts to federal listed endangered and threatened species is assigned to the Department’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Branch. This step is part of our EA checklist. If any listed species may be affected by any activity the Department undertakes, the Department will ensure compliance with Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.
Yet, AZGFD blamed USFWS for not having a Section 7 consultation on the lion/bear project.
Concurrent with the USFWS investigation into Macho B’s snaring and death was an Office of the Inspector General investigation into the same matter. The OIG report found: that the AZGFD was aware of Macho B’s presence in the vicinity of its mountain lion and black bear study in late December and January 2009, yet it did not consult with FWS, as required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973.
The AZGFD response was: FWS, not AGFD, is responsible for determining whether ESA Section 7 consultation on take of federally listed species is required for federally funded studies conducted by AGFD. (The complete OIG report with AZGFD responses can be found under the blogroll)
Apparently, whomever wrote the responses to the OIG report wasn’t aware of their CMU agreement with USFWS/Federal Aid or that an EAC was never completed for the lion/bear study. The EAC is the step BEFORE a Section 7 consultation and actually initiates said consultation if it is determined through an EAC that a federally funded AZGFD project may affect an endangered or threatened species.
Bottom Line: The EAC and Section 7 consultation should and could have been the first line of defense from having snares placed in an area with a known jaguar history and/or from having snares activated in an area where Macho B had been documented two weeks prior.
No employee from AZGFD, nor the agency itself, has been held responsible for breaking the federal law known as the Endangered Species Act.