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April 5, 2005 > California Mountain Lions Dodge Another Bullet...For Now

California Mountain Lions Dodge Another Bullet...For Now

by Nancy Lyon

In 1990, Ohlone Humane Society actively supported the passage of California State Proposition 117, the Mountain Lion Protection Bill, and with equal dedication opposed the 1996 recreational hunting lobby's challenge to overturn the people's mandate to protect mountain lions. We recognized that we live in a world of diversity that must be respected and protected from those who would exploit wildlife for purposes that seek to kill wildlife for recreation.

Another challenge to protect mountain lions was met on March 29 when Assembly Bill 24 that would have reinstated the killing of California mountain lions for trophy hunting, was stalled in the California State Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee. This was due to a tremendous grassroots support numbering in the thousands.

This piece of legislation, if passed, would have again legalized the year round trophy hunting of mountain lions in the state. It promoted the random killing of 116 mountain lions per year, whether or not the lion has caused a problem, and it created a legal and very profitable market for heads, pelts and organs taken from mountain lions in California.

Several lawmakers said they weren't ready to lift a ban that had been ratified twice by voters. "I have a lot of trouble overturning the will of the voters in two different elections," said Assemblywoman Lynn Daucher, R-Brea. "[Ballot] propositions are kind of the pedestal of democracy."

California's current mountain lion management plan is intensive and targeted. Under this legislation lions that are perceived to be a threat to public safety or livestock are permitted to be hunted and killed. When livestock or pets are killed by a mountain lion, that particular lion is hunted and destroyed. Current law specifically removes lions with a propensity for human conflict from the gene pool.

Rick Hopkins Ph.D., a noted mountain lion biologist, provided testimony that there is no scientific evidence linking recreational hunting of mountain lions to an increase in public safety or to a decrease in livestock or pet depredation. Instead, he provided statistics that lead to the conclusion that the opposite is true.

Speaking out against reinstating the sport killing of California cougars were representatives of many animal protection organizations including The Mountain Lion Foundation, the U.S. Humane Society, Sierra Club, Planning and Conservation League, Animal Protection Institute, California Federation for Animal Legislation, Action for Animals and United Animal Nation. They all stated their opposition to this pro-hunting bill.

The bill's opponents said sport hunting would be a poor way to protect the public. "This bill is not management," said Lynn Sadler, president of the Mountain Lion Foundation. "It's the random killing of mountain lions whether or not they cause a problem, and essentially it's recreation."

Presently, the state issues depredation permits that authorize the killing of mountain lions that pose a risk to domestic animals and humans, but sport hunting has been barred since 1972, first through a series of moratoriums and then through Proposition 117, which was approved by voters in 1990. In 1996, voters rejected an attempt by the trophy-hunting lobby to overturn Proposition 117.

The Mountain Lion Foundation (MLF) stated that no one really knows how many mountain lions there are or how many are needed to maintain a healthy balance in nature. It was pointed out that if they are killed off, it will mean there will be more coyotes and bobcats attacking pets, farm and ranch animals.

The Department of Fish and Game estimates there are about 4,000 to 6,000 mountain lions in California, up from about 2,000 in the 1970s, but encounters with cougars are still very rare and the risk of injury or death from an attack is infinitely small. On the list of daily "dangers" faced by Californians, cougars are but a footnote. In the last 100 years, only 14 fatal cougar attacks occurred on the entire North American continent. In that time, more than 1,300 people were killed by rattlesnakes, 4,000 by bees, 10,000 by deer and 15,000 people by lightning.

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HUMAN/COUGAR INTERACTION?
If you or someone you know lives or uses recreational areas in mountain lion territory, such as the Ohlone Wilderness Area, simple measures can be taken to prevent human-lion interactions. According to the Department of Fish & Game, one of the most important tips is do not go into mountain lion territory by yourself. Go with a friend or bring a dog. Always take a friend with you when you camp, hike or backpack in wild areas. Even when lions are encountered, they rarely pose a threat. Most cougars prefer to avoid human beings.

The MLF website, www.mountainlion.org/facts_safety.asp, provides 12 Online Safety Tips for those who go into mountain lion territory.

 
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