Ocelots in Arizona

Ocelot in the Huachuca MountainsAfter half a century's absence of verifiable evidence, there is now a flurry of confirmed ocelots sightings in Arizona! In just over a year period 3 ocelots have surfaced - one road killed near Globe, one camera trap photo from Cochise County, and the last one in Feb. 2011 treed by dogs in the Huachuca Mountains. This latest image, in my opinion, appears to be an older individual and has probably been around for a while.

Perhaps there has been slow recovery of parts of the Sky Island region from better management and the cats have returned. The region was in bad shape in the late 1800's and through the early 1900's. Logging and cattle ranching had decimated wildlife habitat and hunters and trappers killed off most medium and large animals, especially predators like ocelots.

Perhaps global climate change has caused ocelots to move northward as javelina, coati-mundi, and other neo-tropical species have done, although historical records indicate their historical existence in the region.

Cartel siege in Sonora largely hidden

ALTAR, Mexico - The police chiefs met in the dusty plaza with a federal official clutching a black bag filled with pesos: $40,000 in government pensions for the senior citizens living in the pueblos of the nearby foothills.

A convoy of seven vehicles rumbled into the plaza, the trucks squeezing between taco and T-shirt vendors who gawked at the 60 or so federal and state police officers toting assault rifles.

Read the rest in the AZ Daily Star

Also read this excellent piece by Michel Marizco: The Drug War And Cartels Lead To An Exodus In Northern Mexico

It includes a slideshow and audio piece.

21 killed in Mexican gang gunbattle near El Saric, Sonora

Vehicle involved in gunbattleA massive gunbattle between rival drug and migrant trafficking gangs near the U.S. border Thursday left 21 people dead and at least six others wounded, prosecutors said.

The fire fight occurred in a sparsely populated area about 12 miles from the Arizona border, near the city of Nogales, that is considered a prime corridor for immigrant and drug smuggling.

The Sonora state Attorney General's Office said in a statement that nine people were captured by police at the scene of the shootings, six of whom had been wounded in the confrontation. Eight vehicles and seven weapons were also seized.

Read the full article in USA Today

Non-natives - Sahara mustard (Brassica tournefortii) and Eurasian collared dove

Eurasian Collared DoveBuffelgrass has become well known as an invasive exotic species, but many other dangerous exotics threaten parts of the southwest and have garnered much less attention. One in particular comes to mind from my experiences: Sahara mustard (Brassica tournefortii). This mustard has an affinity for sandy or bottomland soil in the middle and especially lower elevation Sonoran Desert. It has spread rapidly across large areas of southwestern Arizona and southeastern California. I've recently seen it in several disturbing places including the Pinacate Biosphere Reserve, in Bear Canyon in the Catalinas, and Saguaro National Park (east and west!). The Arizona/Sonora Desert Museum has a good webpage on this mustard.

This mustard is incredibly tenacious and outcompetes nearly everything including other annuals. Some places in southwestern Arizona it can cover vast areas in a near monoculture.

Game and Fish worker is fired for alleged lying, cover-up in jaguar capture

Macho B and Thornton SmithThe state fired a worker Friday for lying to federal investigators about the fact that the U.S.'s last known wild jaguar was lured to his capture and for concocting a cover-up story, officials said.

The employee, Thornton W. Smith, 40, said biologist Emil McCain told him he had put jaguar scat at two sites near the area where Macho B was captured a year ago southwest of Tucson, the Arizona Game and Fish Department revealed late Friday.

We made a different story to protect the department, protect Emil, to protect my association with Emil, about, you know, not leaving jaguar scat, but (tape recording inaudible) ... But you know, I can't live with that. You know I did it."

Quote taken from Emil McCain regarding the thinly-veiled conspiracy to capture Macho B: "The high-ups in the agency are fully aware of what is happening and we are all on the same page. The timing may be perfect for me to be out of town."

Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare) and Natalgrass (Melinis repens) in Sonora

Buffelgrass fire - converting Sonoran Desert to buffelgrass monocultureIt's becoming common knowledge that buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare) is a huge problem for native vegetation in the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona. In Sonora the problem is much worse. Vast areas of Sonora are over-run with buffelgrass. Ranchers in Sonora continue to blade and till desert and thornscrub to plant this invasive grass, which helps as cattle forage primarily only in the short-term. Once well established the grass becomes fairly woody and cows tend not to eat it unless there is little else.

Unfortunately continued drought and poor range conditions in Sonora make blading one's ranch for buffelgrass seem like an atractive option. Government programs can also help subsidize planting.

AZ Game and Fish Guilty of Intentional Capture of Jaguar Macho B

Macho B in leghold snare after captureHalf of this story is now being told - the intentional capture of Macho B by AZ Game and Fish. The other half of the story, which may be impossible to prove now (ironically due to Fish and Wildlife ordering the wrong kind of necropsy), is that the capture and associated stress, drugs, foot, and canine tooth damage led to the death of Macho B. The decision to euthanize Macho B may have been warranted by the time of re-capture.

Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assessment

Sky Island Alliance in 2009 has started a multi-year biodiversity assement of the Sonoran Sky Islands called the Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assessment (MABA). This project is much needed as there is a dirth of information about the region. Aaron Flesch is working with Sky Island Alliance on this project and is already collecting bird, plant, and other data.

MABA data is housed in a MySQL database connected to the web for public access. You can interact with these data at madrean.org. The are seperate databases for flora and fauna.

Fire on the Mountain

Pines and view in the Sierra PinitoIn June I trekked with a friend to the top of the Sierra El Pinito, a good-sized range just Southeast of Nogales. The Sierra El Pinito nudge their way into the pine forest community at 2230 meters, high enough to compete for serious Sky Island status in Sonora. They are just South of the border from the Santa Ritas and Patagonias on the US side, but because of the the political boundary they are a world away when it comes to fire suppression and natural fire regimes.

To drive the point home the Sierra Azul, just to the south, was actively burning. The fire had burned a significant percentage of the range by the time we laid eyes on it. By the time we left the area it had burned itself out naturally. Little is done to combat wildfires and indeed, in contrast to U.S. fire policy, people don't treat every wildfire as an utterly dire situation.

In my 15 years of experiences in Sonora I’ve seen people with a very different attitude toward fire than I am used to. Little is done to suppress wildfires in Mexico. Fires often burn mountains, grasslands, and even buffelgrass sided freeways, just to burn themselves out without much attention from authorities or locals. Combined with the lack of resources to fight wildfire in Mexico, this has created vegetation communities with a substantially different fire regime than similar communities on the U.S. side of the border.

Some conditions that affect the spread of natural wildfire are unfortunately still present in Sonora, such as cattle grazing and logging. Luckily a few rugged and/or remote locations have even been spared these effects.

This dramatic difference in fire management bisecting the Sky Islands offers an opportunity to study the differences as well as the massive problems associated with fire suppression in Arizona and the West in general.


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