A new group — Friends of Wild Animals — has been formed in Tucson to protest developments in a recent bighorn sheep reintroduction near the city and voice opposition to the closure of meetings on the project by state wildlife officials.
Group members are demanding that meetings held by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and a citizens advisory group be opened to the public.
“We are also calling for an indefinite moratorium on any further bighorn sheep reintroduction or mountain lion killing in the Catalina Mountains,” said group spokesman Ben Pachano.
Two of 31 bighorn sheep — captured near Yuma and released in the Catalinas on Nov. 18 — have died, and state-sponsored hunters killed two mountain lions that preyed on the sheep. Numerous people have decried the killings.
Some citizens and a reporter from the Star sought to be admitted to a Game and Fish Department meeting on the reintroduction reportedly scheduled for Thursday evening. A department spokesman declined to reveal where — or even if — a meeting would be held.
“There are no bighorn sheep meetings scheduled, for today or in the future, that are subject to Arizona’s open-meetings law,” was the terse response from spokesman Mark Hart, who provided no additional information.
Pachano said the Friends of Wild Animals group is made up of a small but growing number of “environmentalists and wildlife lovers who are upset about the way this reintroduction is being handled.”
“Game and Fish has proven itself incapable to manage a responsible reintroduction program,” Pachano said.
“Rather than working toward a healthy ecosystem that honors predator and prey relationships, Game and Fish is treating the Catalinas like a giant stock pond for its trophy-hunting friends.”
He maintained that agency officials are “literally running away from public scrutiny” by holding meetings on the bighorn project that aren’t open to the public or media.
Members of the group provided an email address — email@example.com — for people who have questions about the group or want to join it.