Worker in jaguar capture cited earlier

Misuse of hunting license resulted in fine, firing from research project
2009-04-26T00:00:00Z Worker in jaguar capture cited earlierBy Tim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 26, 2009 12:00 am  • 

The biologist at the center of the controversy over the capture of a jaguar in Southern Arizona once was fired from a wildlife research job after being cited for hunting with another person's license.

A Montana game warden cited Emil McCain in 2001 after he killed a deer, then used another person's tag on it. McCain, then 23, paid a $200 fine and did not fight the citation.

McCain's supervisor on a mountain-lion research project in Yellowstone National Park subsequently fired McCain because of the violation.

"We were working in a national park, and my project was on the up-and-up," said Toni Ruth, the wildlife biologist who led the study. "I didn't want any question about how we were operating and who was working on the project."

McCain's citation and firing is significant now because his credibility is key to two investigations being carried out by the Arizona Attorney General's Office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The investigations center on the Feb. 18 capture of Macho B, the only wild jaguar known to be living in the United States, and his death by euthanization March 2.

Jaguars are an endangered species in the United States, and only four have been confirmed in Southern Arizona and New Mexico since 1996. Macho B was the only jaguar frequently photographed in recent years by cameras placed throughout Southern Arizona by McCain and others as part of the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project.

While he worked for that project in recent months, McCain also did some work for Arizona Game and Fish. He helped Game and Fish employees who were working on a study of mountain lions and bears near the Arizona-Mexico border.

McCain said in an e-mail, obtained by the Arizona Daily Star through a public records request, that Arizona Game and Fish would pay him for catching mountain lions as part of the study.

"i just got my contract from AZGFD," he wrote to Game and Fish biologist Thorry Smith Feb. 12. "they will pay me on a per lion basis. not sure how that will work, but i am sure i can catch lots of lions. it is just a matter of where."

Game and Fish spokesman Bob Miles said early this month that McCain was a "vendor of services" to Arizona Game and Fish, but he declined to be more specific. On Friday, Miles reiterated the department's position that it will not comment on anything related to the jaguar capture now in order to preserve the integrity of the ongoing investigations.

Some of the controversy surrounding Macho B's capture is over whether it was intentional or an inadvertent part of the mountain lion and bear study, as Arizona Game and Fish originally maintained.

In e-mails sent during the weeks before Macho B was captured, McCain, Game and Fish employees and others made preparations to capture a jaguar, whose footprints McCain said he saw in the area where snares were set for the mountain lion/bear study. In the e-mails, McCain and others prepared a radio collar for placement on a jaguar, settled on a sedative and a dosage and discussed other details. But he also said in an e-mail that the group's intent was not to capture a jaguar.

A then-co-worker at the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project, Janay Brun, offered other evidence of intent. She told the Arizona Daily Star for an April 2 story that on Feb. 4 — two weeks before Macho B's capture — she had accompanied McCain and Smith, walking a daylong round in remote mountains between Nogales and Arivaca.

Brun was servicing motion-sensing cameras that the project had put out while McCain and Smith focused on the snares used in mountain lion and bear study, she said. During the hike, Brun placed the scat of a female jaguar, obtained from the Phoenix Zoo, at some camera sites — a practice the project had used in order to get jaguars to stop in front of the cameras.

McCain told her to put some scat at one of the snare sites, Brun said, and she did, though she later came to regret it. That was the site where Macho B was captured two weeks later, Brun said.

McCain said he knew nothing of Brun's having put scat at the snare site and did not tell her to do so. Smith, the only other person present, has not spoken publicly on the matter and has not responded to requests for comment from the Arizona Daily Star.

McCain did not respond to the Star's phone and e-mail requests Thursday for comment.

McCain's 2001 interaction with Montana's Fish, Wildlife & Parks department began when warden Randy Wuertz went to inspect McCain's falconry equipment, Wuertz said from Montana in a recent telephone interview. At that time, Wuertz said, McCain was interested in hunting during Montana's upcoming season, but Wuertz said he would be ineligible for an in-state license because he would not have lived in the state long enough — six months. All the out-of-state licenses had been awarded by that point, Wuertz said, so McCain would not be able to legally hunt.

"He didn't qualify (for an in-state license) 'til shortly after the general hunting season was over," Wuertz said. "He was disappointed."

After the hunting season ended, Wuertz said, "one of his co-workers dropped a dime on him, so to speak." The co-worker told Wuertz that McCain had asked a Montana resident to buy a hunting license and let McCain use it. Wuertz was told that McCain had shot a buck using that license.

"I confronted Emil at his place one evening after work. He at first denied it, but I put a little pressure on him and he confessed to it," Wuertz said.

Not long after, Wuertz said, he received a call from the woman who ran the study where McCain was working.

That woman, Toni Ruth, said this week that other employees, not McCain, told her about McCain's citation. Her opinion, she said, was, "This cannot fly and we cannot have this." So she fired him.

"I didn't want any question about our project," she said.

Wuertz, who is now retired, said the violation McCain was cited for is not uncommon but is serious. Asked if it compares to a speeding ticket among driving violations, Wuertz said "It's more like reckless driving. It's a deliberate violation."

He added, "If you're going to be a wildlife professional, it's kind of a foolish thing to do."

Contact reporter Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-8427.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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