2 mountain lions killed in the Catalinas - WFXG FOX54 Augusta - Your News One Hour Earlier

2 mountain lions killed in the Catalinas

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Game and Fish officials are speaking out tonight after two mountain lions were killed in the Catalinas.

Officials say they were forced to kill the lions because they attacked and killed two big horn sheep recently reintroduced into the Mt. Lemmon area.

About 30 big horn sheep rounded up from the Yuma area were released into the Catalinas last month.  Game and Fish officials say the population was driven out from the area in the late 1990s by wildfires, development and predators.

Their biggest predator is the mountain lion, and there are dozens of them in the Catalinas.

Game and Fish officials say they had to kill a 120 pound male mountain lion on Saturday afternoon after the lion came within 10 yards of a game and fish official from behind.  This happened off the kachina trail on Mt. Lemmon, near Romero Pass.

Officials say the man was in the area to track a mortality signal from a big horn sheep that had been recently released into the area.

Officials did find the remains of the ewe and were able to determine the mountain lion they killed had attacked and killed that sheep.

On Monday, a houndsman and Game and Fish official tracked and killed another lion that had attacked a second sheep in the area.  Officials say the lion had sheep remains in it's stomach and they found lion tracks around the sheep.

Tonight officials are telling us more mountain lions could be killed. It has been part of the adaptive management plan to reestablish the big horn sheep population all along.

Game and Fish officials say they've been up front about the plan and held several public hearings about it. Any lion who attacks a big horn sheep will be killed.

The area where the big horn sheep were released is home to dozens of mountain lions. There's no exact number but the mountain lions have flourished in that area.

Officials say they mostly eat the white tailed deer so they did not expect them to go after the big horn sheep. But Game and Fish officials say they found evidence that two mountain lions did in fact kill two big horn sheep in the range in the last week.

Officials say they have a houndsman on standby. Game and Fish officials, along with a houndsman, were able to track down and kill the two lions responsible for the attacks.

We asked officials if this was a case of killing one species to save another. 

"Well, this is a case of trying to reestablish the natural order of things in the mountain range. So at this point you're going to keep killing lions until a sheep is killed? If we can determine that the lion has indeed killed a sheep then yes."

"This is not forever. This is in the early stages. When we have a small amount of sheep in the range. Next year we'll hopefully have 30 more then 30 more," said Mark Hart, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Game and Fish.

Hart went on to say that they would not kill any female lions with spotted cubs at this time.

Officials say once the big horn sheep is established, they will not need to kill off the predator.

They're calling this an adaptive management plan. If too many lions have to be killed, officials say they will take a second look at the plan. We asked them how many is too many? They did not have an answer for us tonight. 

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