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New Law Could Limit Lethal Force Against Mountain Lions

Sen. Jerry Hill will introduce legislation Friday that would avert the killing of mountain lions.

Following the fatal shooting of two mountain lion cubs in a Half Moon Bay neighborhood last year, Sen. Jerry Hill plans to introduce legislation that would urge state officials to use nonlethal options when responding to similar incidents.

Hill will introduce the legislation at a news conference Friday morning at the CuriOdyssey wildlife museum in San Mateo.

The new law would call for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to partner with wildlife groups when responding to mountain lion sightings, to possibly tranquilize and capture the mountain lions instead of killing them.

Current state regulations don't give the department much flexibility when mountain lions venture into areas populated by humans, according to Hill's office.

Hill’s legislation will authorize the department of fish and wildlife to partner with wildlife groups and nonprofits when responding to such incidents if there is no imminent threat to human life.

The incident involving the two mountain lion cubs sparked debate as to whether mountain lions should be killed when in areas populated by humans.

On Nov. 30, 2012, two sibling mountain lion cubs were spotted in the 800 block of Correas Street in Half Moon Bay near Burleigh Murray Ranch State Park.

The lions, which fish and wildlife officials initially said weighed 25 to 30 pounds, were fatally shot on Dec. 1, 2012, after game wardens and San Mateo County sheriff’s deputies were unable to shoo them out of the neighborhood.

Necropsies showed the female lions were only about four months old, weighed 13 to 14 pounds, and were starving and unlikely to survive in the wild without their mother.

Wildlife groups from around the state have responded to such incidents with calls for change. A petition by animal aid group Wildlife Emergency Services urging the department of fish and wildlife to change its ways has already received more than 1,000 signatures.

Hundreds of mountain lion sightings are reported every year in California. The reports range from simple sightings in the wild to the presence of lions in developed areas.

Officials say attacks on humans are rare. The incident in Half Moon Bay in December, however, marked the second mountain lion shooting by a state game warden in San Mateo County in as many years.

Following the Half Moon Bay incident, wildlife advocates have met with department of fish and wildlife officials to come up with protocols to avert the shootings of mountain lions, which are “specially protected mammals” under Proposition 117, approved by voters in 1990.

The department's rules, however, clearly state, "When evidence shows that a wild animal is an imminent threat to public safety, that wild animal shall be humanely euthanized (shot, killed, dispatched, destroyed, etc.)," according to Hill's office.

The way the guidelines are written, on-the-ground responses treat any situation where a lion "might somehow" come into contact with a human -- no matter how unlikely – as a situation of "imminent threat,” Hill's office reported. 

The nonlethal procedures state officials will be required to utilize under Hill’s legislation include capturing, pursuing, anesthetizing, temporarily possessing, temporarily injuring, marking, attaching to or surgically implanting monitoring or recognition devices, providing veterinary care, transporting, hazing, relocating, rehabilitating, and releasing.

The legislation, however, still provides the department with the authority to kill mountain lions if the lion can reasonably be expected to cause immediate death or physical harm to humans. 

The legislation also clearly authorizes the department to develop partnerships with veterinarians, scientists, zoos and other individuals and organizations to work with state game wardens when mountain lions wander too close to humans.

And local agencies can help. The Peninsula Humane Society, which rescues and rehabs injured and orphaned native wildlife, saved the lives of 1,450 wild animals last year in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.  

“The safety of Californians is priority number one, but the law needs to be changed to give wardens more nonlethal options when dealing with the increasing number of mountain lion encounters in our neighborhoods,” Hill said in a statement. 

"Californians value mountain lions as the last remaining apex predator in the state; contributing substantially to environmental health.  Senator Hill's legislation reflects those values and will help to ensure that mountain lions remain in the wild for future generations to appreciate," said Tim Dunbar, executive director of the Mountain Lion Foundation.

Bob January 26, 2013 at 05:22 AM
When has F&G been trigger happy? Mountain lions overpopulated this state and until they are controlled in some way their population will continue to expand. Each lion lhas a 50 sq mile area it lives in and will push other lions out of its territory. Where do you think they are going to relocate lions to?
Mark Taylor January 26, 2013 at 05:42 AM
This system of relocating is not perfect. It does work but some lions decide to come right back. That usually means they did not learn the lesson so either you do it all over again or you kill them. The default is to kill them since the behavior appears unbroken. It is true though that lions that learn to stay away do pass it on to their offspring. And people have to do their part by discouraging deer from hanging around by planting less tasty things for them to eat and other ways to discourage them. Lions perform one vital service in this regard-they eat deer and will help keep their numbers down. They also eat squirrels too. Although not a mountain lion, one unlucky squirrel at the Lodi Zoo (inside a tiger area) darted up a tree trunk and then waited for the tiger to pass. The tiger just grabbed him and ate him in front of a kid and horrified parent. You can see it on You Tube.
R. J. January 27, 2013 at 04:25 PM
... I have seen several mountain lion in the populated areas of San Mateo county over the years and they always watch for people because they don't want to be seen. One stayed under a wheel barrow in a driveway for about 10 minutes waiting for the traffic to quiet down before crossing the road. it was right next to a fire station. He crossed the road, cleared a 8 ft. Fence and jumped up to a second story roof to hide in a shadow and finish his afternoon nap.
Laura Oliver January 31, 2013 at 06:37 PM
Here's a link to the petition mentioned in this article: www.change.org/petitions/charlton-bonham-director-department-of-fish-and-game-consider-change-to-mountain-lion-policies
Concerned Citizen May 04, 2013 at 09:14 AM
Mountain lions deserve to live! We have encroached upon their native area; they do NOT deserve to die, just so we can be happy! We need to co-exist! It is much too easy for people to destroy, than preserve! We are destroying the Earth, and its inhabitants; and it needs to STOP! THIS IS OUR ONLY HOME, STOP BEING SO IGNORANT!

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