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Dec 3, 2013 11:31 PM by Rebecca Taylor

Game and Fish: Rifle used to kill 2 mountain lions

TUCSON - The controversy over bighorn sheep continues.

Concern over their continued survival in the Catalina Mountains and their number one predator, the mountain lion.

The quick facts: 31 bighorn sheep were released at Catalina State Park last month. The first dead sheep was found last Wednesday near Romero Canyon. At this point, we don't know how it died. But two more were found dead Saturday. Game and Fish says both of those were killed by mountain lions.

That led to intentional killing of two mountain lions over the weekend by Game and Fish. The agency says it has a plan in place to deal with the mountain lions that prey on sheep.

Some people are concerned about both animals.

Game and Fish held a meeting Tuesday with the Bighorn Sheep Advisory Committee. The meeting was private. Members of the public, nor media were allowed in. But afterwards a Game and Fish spokesperson did answer reporter questions.

To start, are officials concerned that within two weeks of their relocation three of 31 sheep are dead? "Mortalities are common and we have always been direct, about our intention to take mountain lions who have preyed on big horn sheep," says Mark Hart, spokesperson for Game and Fish.

What makes them so certain mountain lions are responsible? "It was very evident at the scene that a mountain lion had preyed on the sheep, both the remains of the sheep and copious mountain lion tracks around it," Hart says.

They killed that mountain lion, and a second. Hart says it was stalking them, "Our officer was in threat of life and limb. Under Arizona law he was more than justified to take that mountain lion."

Officials say the mountain lions were lethally removed. We wanted to know, does that mean by lethal injection, or bullet? Hart says, "In the case of both of these, it was a rifle."

Hart says officials plan to continue killing mountain lion who prey upon bighorns, until the herd is established. Right now he says, the mountain lion population is healthy enough, and outnumbers sheep.

"A little over 30 sheep were released there, and their chances of survival, if there's not some effort to keep the predator population at bay, they simply won't survive," Hart says.

Starting soon Game and Fish will provide the media weekly updates on the bighorn restoration project. News 4 Tucson will pass the information along.

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