Is California now a sanctuary state for mountain lions, too?
By JIM MATTHEWS
The Department of Fish and Wildlife is losing its collective mind, joining the legislature and governor’s office in a bin of lunacy.
In mid-December, the agency quietly issued a “new” policy on how it deals with mountain lions that kill livestock or pets in two areas of Southern California. The new 10-page policy effectively assures the agency will not issue depredation permits in the Santa Monica Mountains or the Santa Ana Mountains when lions kill your pet dog or a new foal on a local horse ranch.
It won’t issue a permit until the lion has killed not one, not two, but three animals in the same location. That means you have to own three Labrador’s and all of them must be killed in separate incidents before the state will take action and issue a depredation permit.
It means that if a lion has become a chronic dog, house cat, or goat killer in an area, each person who suffers the loss of an animal has to lose three – three! -- animals before the state will willingly issue a permit.
How did the state come up with a threshold of three animals? Was there a cost analysis done on the value of one urban and famous mountain lion as opposed to three loved and un-famous pets? Is the value of these mountain lions so great that human consideration doesn’t matter?
The long, tedious document points out that the mountain lions that live in these areas are isolated populations, cut off from natural interaction with other populations. That means that any loss – genetically – is a horrible thing. What the document doesn’t point out is that all these lions are being studied to death. Every one of them is named, and they all eventually wear ear tags and/or radio collars. The more famous ones are Internet stars with their own social media pages and websites.
The researchers and animal rights groups got howling mad in 2016 when a livestock owner acquired a permit to shoot a lion – the famous P-45 – because it was killing his animals. He actually shot at the big cat, and may have grazed it because it laid low for a few days. (See the Sacramento Bee story on this issue at this link: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/environment/article192798339.html.) This was an outrage to the lovers of lions. It simply had to stop.
The DFW felt the pressure, and now the possible lion killings have stopped, sort of.
In spite of the new policy, the law that directs the Department of Fish and Wildlife on these issues has not changed.
The law says the DFW “shall issue” a depredation permit when lions (or other predators) kill pets or livestock and the owner of the animal requests it. The new policy effectively says they will try to talk you out of getting a permit to kill the animal if it comes back to the carcass or tries to kill another pet. But if you insist…. Furthermore, pet and livestock owners have the legal right to take action immediately if they catch the animal during the act. They can shoot a lion if it has Fluffy in its jaws. But, shhhhhh, they really don’t want those parts of the law known.
But all this “law” is just a temporary technicality. The DFW staff is undergoing sensitivity training and learning how to talk people out of getting permits to remove the offending mountain lion. And as soon as some famous lion gets dusted by one of the few remaining cattle or horse ranchers in one of these two areas (or anywhere else in the state, for that matter), our brilliant legislature will step in and make this policy a statewide law.
It will make California a sanctuary state for mountain lions.
There are sensible solutions that would actually benefit these isolated populations of lions and the public, but that would require real wildlife management and habitat improvement, something that has been done in California since – oh – about the 1980s.
First, we could work to improve the habitat for deer and increase their populations in these areas. Deer always have been mountain lions primary forage, but deer numbers are so low in most of these urban mountain ranges that lions have to resort to other prey, like your pet Corky.
Second, lions that do prey on pets and livestock need to be removed from the population. This is simply a public safety issue. Unless we are willing to ignore the fact these animals are becoming habituated to people and at some point will attack a human, probably a child, we need to have a sane policy on this issue. To ignore this is to ignore history.
Third, we need to allow researchers to bring in mountain lions from other regions and move cats out of these two mountain ranges to increase the genetic diversity. There would be this kind of mixing of genetics if all the corridors were not blocked by miles of housing tracts and freeways.
None of these things will happen because this is California, and we have somehow decided that common sense must be checked into a sealed closet at the border. A sound policy won’t even become a part of the discussion because of the shrill voices.