Whistling for the Jaguar

The un-redacted story of the jaguar, Macho B's snaring and death.

The Investigation: Erin Fernandez, Part 2

Fernandez was interviewed on April 22, 2009 by USFWS Special Agents (SA) and again on March 18, 2010, this time with her supervisor, Sherry Barrett present. There is no indication that she was given the Garrity Warning during these interviews (it is usually discussed in the transcripts at the beginning of the interview) but it would have been implied if she was forced by her employer, USFWS to answer questions in a USFWS investigation or face termination as defined by Garrity. It is noted that Fernandez was given Garrity when she was interviewed on June 11, 2009 by a USFWS SA and an Office of Inspector General Investigator.

During Fernandez’s first interview the SAs asked her to provide all pertinent and relevant communications to them. Fernandez then forwarded the SAs dozens of emails. In July and August 2009 USFWS SAs served search warrants on McCain and I’s email accounts. It was through McCain’s account the SAs discovered several emails relevant to the Macho B investigation that Fernandez did not provide them. Coincidentally, on April 1, 2009, the day the investigation began, Fernandez was switching to a new USFWS work computer. Ultimately the SAs seized both her USFWS computers and were also able to take “snapshots” of her email accounts to determine which emails were transferred and which ones were deleted.

What Fernandez knew:

1. Oct. 4, 2007 Fernandez congratulates McCain in an email on getting the donated North Star jaguar collar. She also writes; “I assume you told Terry (AZGFD Endangered Species Coordinator, Terry Johnson). My understanding is that he would plan and coordinate any capture efforts…” This email was NOT provided to SAs and was last accessed by Fernandez on 3-19-08.

2. Oct. 12, 2007 Fernandez emails Jack Childs requesting jaguar capture risk assessment document for USFWS Regional Director, Dr. Benjamin Tuggle who, “wants to know more about the risk and benefits of collaring a jaguar like Macho B…” This email was NOT provided to SAs and was last accessed by Fernandez on 10-15-07.

3. Oct. 14, 2008 McCain emails Fernandez informing her he is working with AZGFD on a border study and would like her knowledge about any planned Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) border construction. Fernandez replies asking him if he is working with Kirby (Kirby Bristow, lead field biologist for AZGFD snaring project) and recommends getting together to show them DHS proposed fence maps. This email was NOT provided to SAs and was last accessed by Fernandez on 2-2-09.

4. On Nov. 12 and 14, 2008 Fernandez is a recipient of an agency notification email sent by McCain to inform AZGFD and USFWS of new Macho B photo detections in the Tumacacori and Atascosa Mountains (had been over a year since Macho B was detected in the study area).

5. Nov. 17, 2008 McCain informs Fernandez he has collared several lions including a female that, “is west of Nogales and east of Sasabe fence.”

6. Dr. Roberto Aguilar forwards Fernandez an email string between him and McCain from Nov. 17-18 2008 where McCain states his desire to get a permit to capture Macho B and Aguilar replies discouraging the use of a snare on an old jaguar. Aguilar writes to Fernandez, “Don’t ask-don’t tell, Ok?” Fernandez replies to Aguilar, “Thanks friend…” This email string was NOT provided to SAs and not found in Fernandez’s current computer. It was in her work email on 3/09 but not 5/09 and was last accessed by her on 2-27-09.

7. Dec. 9, 2008 Fernandez hosts a meeting at USFWS Ecological Services office in Tucson for AZGFD and The Wildlife Conservation Society to introduce their cross border carnivore study (the snaring project) to other agencies and to meet with DHS liaison officer, Wayne Lackner about current and proposed DHS border construction.

8. Jan. 5, 2009 McCain emails Fernandez and others about DHS fence construction in the Patagonia Mountains that had not been discussed at the 12-9-08 meeting. In part McCain writes; “We specifically named the areas where we are currently working-Huachucas, Patagonias and Atascosa/Pajaritos… As a result Kirby and I have been planning the next trapping efforts to be focused in the east and west sides of the Atascosas…” This email was NOT provided to SAs and was last accessed by Fernandez on 1-14-09.

9. Feb. 3, 2009 McCain sends agency notification email, which Fernandez was a recipient, about new Macho B picture picked up that day in the Tumacacori Mountains. Fernandez replies to McCain the next day; “Thanks Emil. Macho B is looking good!” McCain’s email was provided but not Fernandez’s response.

10. Feb. 6, 2009 Dr. Aguilar forwards email chain titled, “Jaguar Immobilization” to AZGFD Research Branch Chief, Chasa O’Brien (lead on snaring project) and blind copies Fernandez. The email chain is McCain and Smith (McCain’s coworker on AZGFD snaring project) asking Aguilar how to anesthetize a jaguar if one were captured during the AZGFD snaring project. Aguilar writes to O’Brien, Fernandez is blind copied: “I wanted to give you a “heads up” on an email exchange regarding jaguars and anesthesia that I had with Emil and Thorry (Smith). They asked for a good, safe way to anesthetize a jaguar, should one be accidentally trapped as part of the AZGFD black bear, mountain lion study… I don’t want you to be surprised if you hear about it from the field team. Just trying to be helpful.” This email string was NOT provided to SAs; it was in her email account on 3/09 but not 4/09; and was last accessed on 3-18-09. Fernandez denied knowledge of the email and it’s contents though it was located under the folder titled, “Jaguar” in her email account before she deleted it.

11. Feb.9, 2009 Fernandez was recipient of agency notification email from McCain about latest Macho B photos and tracks detected in the Pajarita Mountains.

12. Feb. 19, 2009 Fernadez blind copied on email chain sent from Dr. Aguilar to Chasa O’Brien regarding his congratulatory communications with McCain and Smith about Macho B’s capture. Aguilar writes to O’Brien (and Fernandez): “This sort of thing can be sensitive, so please don’t mention it to anyone, but the jaguar capture ( I am told was incidental) and collaring went well. FYI…” Email chain was NOT provided to SAs; email present in “Jaguar” folder on 3/09 but not 4/09; email not found in her current computer and was last accessed by Fernandez on 3-18-09.

13. Feb. 19, 2009 Another email exchange in which Aguilar blind copies Fernandez. The email is Aguilar, once again, congratulating McCain and Smith on Macho B’s capture and hypothesizing the jaguar protocol,  “may have been safe even in an older animal, which means more possible collars on other animals.” Email was NOT provided to SAs; present in “jaguar” folder on 3/09 but not 4/09; not found in current computer, and last accessed on 3-18-09.

14. Fernandez was again blind copied on an email exchange between Dr. Aguilar and Thorry Smith on 2-20-09. Smith tells Aguilar he was told to keep information regarding Macho B’s capture “low key.” Aguilar writes to Smith that he was speaking, “to AZGFD and USDA folks on a need to know basis” about the capture. This email was NOT provided; email not in Fernandez’s current computer and last accessed by her on 3-18-09.

15. Fernandez indicated to USFWS SAs during her 3-18-10 interview that she was unaware of jaguar locations, specifically west of Nogales. Yet, there were several more emails that proved otherwise. The first was an email from Jack Childs, responding to an inquiry by Fernandez, that names all the mountain ranges west of Nogales where jaguars had been detected. The second email was from a USFWS coworker who has forwarded an email from McCain that gives specific canyon and mountain range names where jaguars have been detected west of Nogales. And the third was an email exchange between Fernandez, her coworker, Susan Sferra, and Border Patrol liaison, Wayne Lackner. Lackner asks for jaguar locational information on behalf of Border Patrol. Fernandez and Sferra have reservations about giving them the specifics so Lackner agrees to inform Border Patrol agents that “… there is a jaguar west of Nogales where it has always been.”

To sum it up: Fernandez, USFWS “Jaguar Lead” was aware of the AZGFD snaring project and who was working on it; where the snares were going to be activated and that they were in Macho B’s territory; Macho B’s latest detections which included several in the snaring area; Macho B’s territory as it was known to BJDP; that AZGFD personnel were seeking proper drug and dosage advice for a jaguar capture; that there was a donated jaguar collar available if a jaguar was captured; and that McCain hoped to get a permit to capture Macho B; and Fernandez concealed quite a bit of this information from USFWS SAs during the course of their federal criminal investigation into Macho B’s capture and death.

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