Whistling for the Jaguar

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

The Investigation: Terry Johnson, part 1

Johnson was the Endangered Species Coordinator for AZGFD until last year when he retired. He was responsible for two species in Arizona; the Mexican Gray Wolf and the Jaguar. At present he acts as an advisor to AZGFD. He was interviewed by USFWS Special Agents (SAs) on 4-3-09, 6-4-09, and 10-21-10.

“If the jaguar were alive today the matter would not be an issue.”  Terry Johnson

So let’s explore some issues that existed before Macho B was snared and euthanized. Issues that do matter when it comes to the safe conservation of any species.

In the fall of 2008 Johnson was aware AZGFD was snaring lions and bears, but supposedly did not know the locations of the snares. He also didn’t know that the snares had been closed in the fall because the field team had run out of collars nor that the snares were re-set in February 2009.

Sometime late in 2008 or early 2009, Johnson became aware that McCain was contracted by AZGFD to set traps for their lion and bear snaring project. According to Johnson, he thought: “This was great. Now you have the guy who knows where the jaguars are, who better to keep you from trapping a jaguar than the guy who is running the camera sets (referring to the BJDP jaguar camera project).” Actually, in my opinion, who better to ensure that you trap a jaguar than the guy who is running the cameras; knows the latest jaguar detection information; is a vocal supporter of a jaguar capture; and is choosing where the snares will be placed which just happens to be in areas where a jaguar has been detected.

On November 12, 2008 McCain sends out his agency notification email to AZGFD (including Johnson) and USFWS to inform them of Macho B’s latest photo detections from July and August (the cameras had just been checked and these are the first photos of Macho B in over a year). Several weeks later, on December 4th, Johnson has a routine meeting with AZGFD Director Larry Voyles to brief him on the wolf and jaguar. Regarding jaguar, Johnson goes through his “to do” list of what needs to be addressed and this includes the decision memo to authorize a jaguar capture. Apparently, the memo was a working document that began in 2006 and had undergone several revisions but had not been finalized. According to Johnson, Voyles asked: “Do we have a candidate for capture? What’s the urgency here?” And Johnson replied: “There is no urgency here, because the only jaguar that’s out there that we know about is a cat that is somewhere around the order of 15 to 16 years old, and that’s not a candidate for capture.” Johnson stated, “I walked away from the meeting with Larry (Voyles) on December 4th with the full understanding that we’re both on the same page, that Macho B is not a candidate for capture.”

But, Voyles gives a slightly different version of that meeting. According to Voyles, “Johnson stated there was a possibility that a jaguar might be captured during the lion and bear study and Johnson expressed a desire to have the capability to collar a jaguar should one get caught in a snare and he wanted to work with the USFWS to be allowed to collar it.”  Jaguar = Macho B in this paragraph.

So Johnson leaves the meeting with Voyles and is ready to begin addressing a long “to do” list for the jaguar which includes: updating handling and capture protocols; completing the Conservation Assessment; looking into the “pot of gold” funding up for grabs from the Department of Homeland Security and other funding sources to keep BJDP afloat. But, the first thing Johnson wants to cross off his list is the memo authorizing the capture and collaring of a jaguar. On the same day as his meeting with Voyles, December 4th, Johnson updates the memo with language specific to Macho B: “Recent occurrence of a jaguar in southern Arizona (he is referring to Macho B’s latest photo detections), in an area in which mountain lions are being captured by AGFD via foot snares, make inadvertent capture of a jaguar this winter a reasonable possibility.”

But, Johnson told the USFWS SAs he didn’t know the location of the snares and that Macho B was not “a viable candidate” for capture. So how does he explain the language he added to the authorization memo? Well, he said “jaguar” not Macho B, he was being general. And he was aware of various projects occurring in southern Arizona, including a few using snares, and: “Wherever we’re working on lions or bears, if we’re working down in SE Arizona from Organ Pipe clear over to the New Mexico border, and we’re south of Interstate 40 (north of Phoenix and hundreds of miles away from any jaguar occurrence in the state for decades), from my perspective, we are in jaguar country at that point… So my assumption would be if you’re down there working in the borderlands (this is a specific term referring to the lands on the immediate sides of the US-MX border where, consequently, Macho B did live), and you’re doing anything more than hair snares, if you’re actually setting foothold snares or leghold snares…you’ve got to at least consider the possibility of jaguar presence.” Again, his explanation is that he is being general. So to sum it up in Johnson’s own words: “I’m writing this memo for a future signature that will authorize us to do work over not just a month or two period, but over a period of years. So I’m writing that memo flexibly as I can to make sure that the key issues are there for my Director to consider before he signs it, but they’re generalities.”

So a few issues that come to my mind at this point:  If Johnson didn’t know exactly where snaring was occurring in southern AZ and he considered all of southern AZ to be subject to the presence of a jaguar, and he just walked out of a meeting with his Director with a clear understanding that Macho B was not a viable candidate for capture due to his old age, and he is aware that Macho B is alive and well and present in his territory in the borderlands, and that Macho B is the only jaguar known to exist in southern AZ, why is Johnson’s first task not finding out where the AZGFD snares are located for the various projects and if they are located in any areas where Macho B has been detected? Johnson is the Endangered Species Coordinator for AZGFD, not a low-level bureaucrat, a high one. He was the Jaguar Lead for his agency, an agency that was and remains to this day a co-lead in jaguar conservation for the U.S. If Johnson and the Director of AZGFD had come to the conclusion that Macho B should not be captured, why was that never repeated to the AZGFD employees that actually worked in the field, in jaguar habitat and territory? Why did Johnson not pursue a line of communication with the snaring projects in southern AZ to ensure his Director’s wishes, which equates to AZGFD’s wishes and is setting policy for jaguar conservation in the U.S.? Why did Johnson do absolutely nothing to gain information that was pertinent to his duties as the Endangered Species Coordinator? So what did Johnson do after revising the memo to include Macho B? The next day, Dec. 5th, he sent an email to several AZGFD employees, which included McCain, and to Jack Childs (McCain & I’s boss at BJDP) that reads in part: “I also discussed Macho B with Director Voyles again yesterday. I am now putting the final touches on an authorization to capture and collar memo… Assuming that no concerns erupt at Tuggle’s (SW Director of USFWS) end, Larry (Voyles) would sign the authorization memo late that week or early the next one…”

Is Johnson now informing McCain, Childs, and other AZGFD employees that an authorization memo to capture and collar Macho B is in the works and could be finalized in a matter of two weeks?

That will be the topic of The Investigation: Terry Johnson, part 2

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