Blogging the Desert will now start presenting excerpts from the Arizona Game and Fish Department transcripts of its internal investigation of the capture of the United State's last known wild jaguar -- Macho B. He died shortly after being captured and radio collared near the Mexican border in February 2009.
Some commenters on the paper's jaguar stories have pointed out that the transcripts have been available on the department's website for some time, starting in April 2010, with the last of 16 officials' testimony going online in July 2010 and that it's hardly stop the presses news at this point.
Our explanation: When the transcripts came online, the Star had run a huge burst of jaguar stories from February 2009 until Game and Fish biologist Thorry Smith was fired in April 2010. We felt readers deserved a break, so we gave one. Now, we are running stories on the transcripts at a time that they have news value, with jaguar whistleblower Janay Brun scheduled to go on trial on two criminal charges of federal Endangered Species Act violations starting on April 12.
So we're starting with Chantal "Chasa" O'Brien, the head of the department's research branch, which was responsible for the black bear-mountain lion study that led to Macho B's capture. These exchanges all took place between her and Game and Fish interviewers on Jan. 6, 2010
Q Have you ever had any actual formal training on the Endangered Species Act?
Q. Lacking such training, what was your understanding of how an Endangered Species Act permit worked?
A.I didn't have any understanding of the permitting process at the time.
Q. (She was asked if she knew what a Section 10A1A permit is under the Endangered Species Act -- the kind of permit used by agencies to authorize capture of an endangered animal.)
Q. Do you have any familiarity with that term?
A. I didn't at the time. I do now.
A few pages later in the transcripts, O'Brien was asked if, back in November 2008, she was aware of the fact that jaguar researcher Emil McCain had told officials of the Arizona-New Mexico Jaguar Conservation Team -- which includes Arizona Game and Fish --- that he had seen remote camera photos of jaguar Macho B in the area where the bear-lion study was taking place?
Q. Were you aware that the bear-lion study's lead biologist, Kirby Bristow of the department and other members of what was called the large habitat connectivity team were routinely carrying Emil McCain's jaguar collar into the field in that area in October-November 2008?
Q. Were you aware that on February 9, 2009 -- nine days before the Macho B capture -- that Emil McCain had told the jaguar team that he had seen new photos taken of Macho B in the Atascosa Mountains -- the range where the capture occurred -- and the neighboring Tumacacori Mountains?
Q. She was asked if she had been aware that on February 4, 2009, Game and Fish biologist Thorry Smith was in the field to reopen snare traps in the Atascosas, because a hunter had taken and shot a mountain lion that had been previously collared for the bear-lion study? Had Bristow let her know about that, O'Brien was asked.
I don't remember if Kirby had let me know about that or not. He may have indicated that they had lost -- I don't regularly hear about every study I don't remember whether I heard whether we had lost an animal or not.
A little bit later, she was asked if she knew that on Feb. 5, the day after Smith and McCain reopened the snares, McCain pointed out a jaguar track in that area to Michelle Crabb, a Game and Fish biologist.
"No," O'Brien replied. She also told investigators that she didn't know that her biologist, Bristow, as in the field at the eventual capture site with Smith and McCain during the week of Feb. 4, 2009.
Q. To the extent you can try and put yourself back in that time, if you had gotten a call from Kirby and he said, hey, you know, we found -- there has been some new photos a couple of weeks old and a track a couple of weeks old out where we are getting ready to to restart snaring for lions . . . can you get any sense of what you think you might have done with that information at that time?
A. I think I definitely -- the kind of constant risk meter that you're evaluating with everything, it would have heightened significantly, and I tend to be more risk averse than a risk taker, naturally. And it would have definitely brought back to the top of the list -- I would have indicated -- if Kirby had called me and said, hey, we're busy capturing in this area.
There has been photographs of a jaguar in this area and we found tracks in this area, I would have said close the snares. You know we need to evaluate -- we've talked all along about how we deal with this and jaguar and EAC, we need to get this finalized before you're moving forward on anything that has this higher risk as I assess of the potential of capturing a jaguar."
By EAC, O'Brien means an Environmental Asssesment Checklist, a technique used by Game and Fish on various projects to go over potential environmental effects of a research project or other kinds of projects.