March 15, 1996

Mountain Lions

I know for sure that there are lions on or near my property and have no fear whatever of walking where I please. I am much more intimidated by people than by mountain lions.

On March 26, California voters will be asked to vote on Proposition 197, which will amend the Wildlife Protection Act of 1990, an initiative that made the mountain lion a specially protected species. It does not involve major changes in the provisions of the act, nor will it allow the re-introduction of sport hunting for mountain lions. Unfortunately, the arguments in the ballot pamphlet, both pro and con, are pitched to the emotions of the voters and bear little relationship to the truth.

But first, a bit of history. In 1907 the legislator declared the mountain lion a bountied predator and paid a bounty for every lion killed. 12,500 lions were killed in the following 57 years. The bounty was removed in 1963, but lions were considered a non-game animal and they could be killed at will. In 1969, the lion was declared a game animal and a permit was required to kill one. During the next 2 years, 4,953 permits were issued and 118 lions killed. It is obvious that the success rate of lion hunters was pretty pathetic. This is in contrast to professional trackers, who use specially bred and trained hounds. Their success rate is often 90% or better.

In 1972, recreational lion hunting was ended and only lions that killed or threatened livestock or pets were allowed to be killed, and that only with a "depredation permit." In 1990 an initiative was passed that made the lion the only "specially protected mammal." It provided for a four fifths vote of the legislature to change any provision of the law. As in the past, since 1972, lions could be killed only if they threaten livestock, pets or people.

People can be very polarized about the lion, with some believing that they should be left alone, some wanting to hunt them, and some who would like them wiped out.

There is no question that lions can be a serious threat to livestock. The experts say that once a lion develops a taste for domestic livestock, it will continue to go for those easy pickings. One old male went berzerk and killed 50 sheep in one night. From 1972-1994 2,347 depredation permits were issued, resulting in 897 lions being killed. As expected, most were killed in counties that have large amounts of undeveloped land, lots of deer and livestock. Mendocino county, in California, leads the others in permits issued and lions killed. It should be obvious that lions are only a problem when a lion's territory and a stockman's territory intersect. The number of permits and kills have increased steadily every year since '72. Does this mean that there are more lions? Everything known indicates that this is so, even though there is no accurate lion census. We are sure that California has more people. A major provision of Prop. 197 is to fund the Department of Fish and Game to study lion populations and fund the implementation of a management plan. In other words, the proposition essentially places the management of the mountain lion back in the hands of Fish and Game. The professionals do not consider recreational hunting to be an effective management tool.

I have heard people say that the lion population has increased to the point where they are a threat to people. Is this true? There is no question that a lion that is capable of bringing down a full grown deer or elk is able to kill a person. There is also no question that lions prefer deer and other game to people. A sheep or calf is also preferred over a person. In the last 105 years, there have been a total of 12 attacks on people in California, of which 5 were fatal (two of those were fatal because the lion had rabies). A seven year old boy was killed in 1890. In 1994 a 40 year old woman was killed 40 miles north of Sacramento, and in 1994, a 56 year old woman was killed in San Diego county. In Mendocino county, two people took on a rabid lion with a knife and killed it. Both were bitten and treated for rabies. That's it -all of it.

I know for sure that there are lions on or near my property and have no fear whatever of walking where I please, when I please. I am much more threatened by people than by mountain lions. If I saw a mountain lion, odds are that I would more thrilled than frightened. Of course, a rabid lion would frighten me, but so would a rabid dog or skunk.

I intend to vote for Prop. 197 because I believe that Fish and Game needs as much help as it can get plus the freedom to do its job to the best of its ability. Their major efforts are devoted to maintaining a healthy and diverse population of wildlife in California. It is a goal that I can give my wholehearted support to.

The specific information in this column came from the Special Mountain Lion Issue of Outdoor California.

Note: In response to an emotional campaign against it, Prop. 197 was defeated.

Next Column

Return to the Environment Home Page

Return to Ira's Home Page