Albion Monitor /Features
 Alien Invaders: When Natives Threaten Humans

Predator in our Back Yard

by Philip E. Daoust

Eight lions killed in San Diego County park since 1992

As California's population continues to balloon and urban sprawl leaks into the wild domains, man and animal are increasingly in competition. The effects of California's unprecedented growth during the past decade has been devastating for the state's native animal species.

Numberous environmental laws on the state and federal level have been passed over the years to protect special species. But lawmakers and many people in the general public have little sympathy when the species is considered a threat to human life and property. This is the dilemma that faces the California mountain lion.

During the past five years, state officials report that the number of mountain lion attacks and sightings have increased signficantly. In 1995, two women were killed and four people were injuried by mountain lions in separate attacks around the state. The deaths were the first known fatal cougar attacks since 1909.

Last October, there were more than a dozen sightings of mountain lions in the town of Benicia and surrounding areas. In January, a mountain lion was shot and killed in the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park in San Diego County.

While searching for the mammal reported by a hiker, game warden Robert Turner and two other people were surprised when a mountain lion suddenly leaped from the heavy brush and ran toward them. Turner fatally shot the cougar. It was the eighth mountain lion killed in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park since 1992.

Statewide, the mountain lion population has increased from approximately 2,400 in the early 1970s to about 6,000 today, according to estimates from Fish & Game, which issues about 60-80 hunting permits a year.

The sharp rise in mountain lion and human encounters over the years has prompted some lawmakers to draft legislation that would repel special protection given the animal by a 1990 initiative. In 1990, the Wildlife Protection Act, or Proposition 117, was passed by a slim margin of votes. It outlawed sport hunting of mountain lions and alloted millions of dollars over a 30-year period to protect the species and the habitat of mountain lions.

But this year, a new ballot, Proposition 197, would repel the 1990 law if passed by voters in the March 26 elections. If repeled, mountain lions would no longer receive special protection and Fish & Game would have to come up with a plan to manage the lions in their habitats.

Environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, argue that Prop. 197 is simply a law to legalize once again cougar trophy hunting in California. A statewide poll taken two weeks ago shows that 48 percent of the people surveyed would vote against Prop. 197, 43 percent would support it (9 percent were undecided).

A bill introduced by state Senator Nicholas Petris (D-Oakland) would prohibit the hunting of mountain lions but still include many of the safety measures of Prop. 197. However, Petris' bill is not expected to make it through the legislative process in Sacramento.

Safari Club, in its November 1995 issue of Safari Times, asks supporters of Prop. 197 to raise money nationally because the organization believes the outcome of the ballot measure will have a far-reaching, nationwide consequences for trophy hunting.

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Albion Monitor March 10, 1996 (

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