PHOENIX — Federal officials have agreed to analyze — and revise if necessary — their programs to catch predators in Arizona to ensure they do not also harm the endangered ocelot.
In a deal spelled out in federal court documents, the Agriculture Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service will examine the risks of how they snare and poison bobcats, coyotes, bears and other predators. The agencies are required to consider changes to reduce the chances that the fewer than 100 ocelots still in the United States are killed.
Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, conceded that the agreement does not provide the original relief sought when her group and the Animal Welfare Institute filed suit last year. They had sought to block further predator trapping in areas where there are ocelots “until the violations of federal law ... have been corrected to the satisfaction of this court.”
The deal, which ends the lawsuit against the federal agencies, does not require that actual changes be made to the trapping programs. Instead, it simply requires that they update what Adkins called an “outdated” analysis, prepared in the 1990s, of their wildlife-control programs in Arizona.
But Adkins said she believes changes will be suggested “which I suspect will be banning certain practices where ocelots live.”
If nothing else, Adkins said, an updated plan will account for what appears to be an increasing Arizona habitat for the ocelot.
“There’s been several recent sightings of ocelots that show that it’s expanding its range within the Huachuca Mountains and the Santa Ritas,” she said. Earlier plans have examined only other areas where the cats have been seen, including the Whetstone Mountains and around Globe.
“We just want to make sure wildlife service isn’t using methods that are indiscriminate in areas where they could catch ocelots. If their analysis leads to bad decisions, that could give rise to another lawsuit from us,” Adkins said. “But for now, the first step was to get them to take a look.”
The underlying problem, Adkins said, is that the methods used to catch predators are “fundamentally nonselective, environmentally destructive, inherently cruel and often ineffective.”
She particularly cites leghold traps as “inhumane.”
Adkins said there also are snares and poisons. That includes what’s known as an M-44 device, a baited trap that, when tugged on, propels a dose of poisonous sodium cyanide into the mouth of an animal.
While designed for coyotes, the devices unintentionally killed 822 bobcats, foxes and other animals from 2010 to 2016, the environmental groups say.
Ocelots, which can weigh as much as 35 pounds and stretch 4 feet in length including the tail, have been detected at least five times in Arizona since 2009. That includes a road-killed animal near Globe in 2010, a treed ocelot in the Huachuca Mountains in 2011 and a male photographed in the Santa Ritas in 2014.
The species hunts mostly at night, targeting rabbits, birds, fish, rodents, snakes, lizards and other small- to medium-sized prey.
Ocelots were listed as endangered in 1982.